Heart Disease in the Family? Protect Yourself

Some diseases seem to run in families. Heart disease is one of them. A family history significantly increases your risk for also developing heart disease.

Unfortunately, heart disease is common-and deadly. More than 600,000 Americans die from heart disease annually. It is the number one killer of men and women in the U.S and accounts for about 25 percent of all deaths. Having a family history does not mean you definitely develop the disease, only that you are more likely to.

You have a family history if a male parent developed heart disease before age 55 or a female before age 65. According to the Centers for Disease Contro, the key features of a family history that may increase your risk are:

  • Disease at an early age
  • Disease in more than one close relative
  • Certain combinations of diseases
  • A disease that does not usually affect a certain gender

There are other risk factors for heart disease as well, including age, sex, smoking, obesity, poor diet, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, lack of activity, stress, and poor hygiene. Unfortunately, most of the causes of adult heart disease begin in childhood. Obviously, you can't change your genes, but by recognizing other risk factors, you can take steps to reduce the likelihood you'll develop heart disease.

What to do if you have a family history
Learn all you can about your family history and share the information with your physician. What major medical conditions have family members developed, and what was their cause of death? At what age did they discover heart disease and how old were they when they died?

Make simple lifestyle changes that can significantly reduce your risk of developing heart disease. For example, don't smoke and limit your alcohol consumption; exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight; eat a healthy diet; and manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Use existing resources to determine your risk factors. My Family Health Portrait and Family Healthware are both online tools that can help you identify your risk factors for heart (and other) diseases.

You may want to ask your physician about genetic screening. Family hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a common, hereditary factor that significantly increases your risk for heart disease. It causes high levels of bad cholesterol beginning at birth. Many people with FH are not properly treated. Fortunately, genetic screening can identify FH early so you can manage this disease.



Mayo Clinic. "Heart Disease." Web. 12 January 2011.

Nainggolan, Lisa. "Call to Cardiac Screen All Family Members of Sudden-Death Victims." Medscape Medical News. Web. June 3, 2009. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/703829

Brookes, Linda, MSc, and Berenson, Gerald S. MD. "Will the Real Risk Factors Stand Up: A Surprise From Bogalusa." Medscape Medical News. Web. 13 February 2012. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/758312_2

Nainggolan, Lisa. "Like Father, Like Son: Y-Chromosome Variant May Explain CAD." Medscape Medical News. Web. 8 February 2012. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/758437

Office of the Surgeon General and the National Human Genome Research Institute. "My Family Health Portrait." Web. https://familyhistory.hhs.gov/fhh-web/home.action

Centers for Disease Control. "Genomics and Health: Heart Disease and Family History." Web. 2 February 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/genomics/resources/diseases/heart.htm

PLOS Currents. "Cascade Screening for Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH)." Web.  http://knol.google.com/k/ren%C3%A9e-m-ned/cascade-screening-for-familial/70fnx9tmvdav/13?collectionId=28qm4w0q65e4w.50#

Centers for Disease Control. "Family History is Important for Your Health." Web. http://www.cdc.gov/genomics/public/file/print/FamHistFactSheet.pdf

Centers for Disease Control. "Genomics Translation." Web. 16 February 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/genomics/famhistory/famhx.htm