How does my family history affect my risk for heart disease?

You probably know that having parents with early heart problems ups your vulnerability, but did you know that having a sibling with heart disease before age 60 doubles your own odds of trouble? Sharing clothes is one thing, but heart attacks? Tell your doc about this part of your family history, and then do everything you can to stay healthy, from eating whole grains and exercising to not smoking.

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Heart disease is hereditary in certain groups of patients. Generally, if a man has a heart attack before the age of 45, or a woman before the age of 55, that person’s children are at greater genetic risk of a heart attack. More often than not, family history plays a role in heart disease risk factors, rather than a direct genetic risk for heart attack. That is, if your parents have high cholesterol, then there is also a risk that you will have high cholesterol. The same is true for high blood pressure and diabetes.

If your parents have risk factors for heart disease, some things you can do to lower your risk of heart disease are: 

  • Watch your diet.
  • Be physically active.
  • Keep your weight within a healthy range.
  • Avoid risk factors such as cigarette smoking.
  • See a doctor for cholesterol and blood pressure monitoring and treatment as needed.

Aggressive treatment of risk factors can lower the overall risk for heart disease and delay its onset.

A family history of heart disease is indeed a risk factor for heart disease, but it is by no means a definite indication that you will be affected. It actually plays a smaller role than the risk factors you can control, which include smoking, behaviors contributing to type 2 diabetes, weight, activity levels, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.