Features January 2019 Issue

If You Have Lost Family to Heart Disease, Should You Be Worried?

Your risk may be higher than average, but there are ways to lower it.

One in three people in the United States dies from heart disease. That meansheart disease touches almost every family.

If you lost a parent or sibling to a heart attack, should you be worried? Let's look at how your family history of heart disease impacts your individual risk.

Explaining Risk Factors

There are many risk factors for heart disease. Modifiable risk factors include smoking, abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity and environmental hazards. You can change the impact of these risk factors on your heart health by making lifestyle changes and/or taking medications.

The non-modifiable risk factors include age, gender, race and family history of heart disease. These are things you cannot change.

Family History Matters


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You canít change your family history of heart disease, but you can take steps to reduce its impact on your own heart.

Coronary artery disease (CAD), the disease that leads to heart attack, tends to run in families, as do many modifiable risk factors, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

While anyone with a modifiable risk factor has an increased risk of developing CAD, those with a genetic risk are at even greater risk. Your risk is higher than average if:
- Your father or brother was diagnosed with heart disease before age 55.
- Your mother or sister developed heart disease before age 65.

What You Can Do About It

You cannot become younger or change your race or genetic makeup, but if you have a family history of heart disease, you can reduce its impact by tackling any modifiable risk factors that you might have. This means you need to quit smoking, get regular exercise, lose weight, lower your cholesterol and blood pressure or, if you have diabetes, watch your blood sugar.

"You may get sick and tired of hearing this advice, but if you take it to heart, you will lower your chance of developing CAD or having a first or second heart attack," says Leslie Cho, MD, Co-Section Head of Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation at Cleveland Clinic. "Ask your doctor to assess your individual risk and tell you what steps you should take to lower it."

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