Family history and heart disease – a link you can’t change

Learn how your family’s heart health can impact yours

There are many links to heart disease, but one that puts you most at risk that you cannot change is your family history or heredity.

“A family history of coronary artery disease is perhaps the worst risk factor that cannot be modified that someone can have,” said Ibrahim Fahsah, M.D., cardiologist with Norton Heart Specialists. “The genes carried down from one generation to the next can impact heart health in so many ways such blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and narrowing of the arteries, to mention a few. And many times these symptoms can be silent and undetected without annual checkups with a primary care provider.”

Where do you start?

First, find out about your immediate family — mother, father and siblings. Have they had a stroke or heart attack? Or have they been treated for high blood pressure, diabetes or other heart-related concerns such as narrowing of the arteries. If the answer is yes, then it’s time to talk to your primary care provider. It also helps to know about your extended family, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, if possible.

Learn your links to heart disease

Despite efforts to diagnose and treat heart disease early, many Americans are unaware of their risk. Are you one of them?

“Family history is the one category that often goes overlooked, especially by people who consider themselves to be overall healthy,” Dr. Fahsah said. “Someone who eats a healthy balanced diet, exercises routinely all while maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding smoking — coronary artery disease is probably the least of their worries, until … .”

Sometimes that is how family history works. It can go completely undetected until an event such as a stroke or heart attack occurs.

Making positive changes

“A family history of coronary artery disease is not a death sentence,” Dr. Fahsah said. “But the sooner you begin making changes in your lifestyle and working with your primary care provider to monitor changes, the better off you’ll be.

If you have a family history of heart disease, your doctor may decide to monitor your cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure routinely. Additional testing can be recommended, such as a scan to measure calcium deposits in arteries, an early indicator of heart disease.


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