Know Your Family Heart Health History
Knowledge is one of your strongest weapons against heart disease.
Diseases of the heart and blood vessels – also known as “cardiovascular diseases” – can run in families. Therefore, knowing your family history can provide important information about your health risks. Talk to your family about their heart health history. Create a heart health family tree that you and your doctor can use today – and the next generation of your family can use tomorrow.
Create Your Heart Health Family Tree.
The first step is to talk to your immediate family:
- brothers and sisters
Next, reach out to extended family:
- aunts and uncles
- nieces and nephews
- half-brothers and half-sisters.
If possible, gather information about cousins, great-uncles and great-aunts. It is also important to include information on relatives who are deceased. Here is the type of information you will want to gather:
What heart conditions have family members been diagnosed with? Proper names are best. Some examples include:
- aneurysm of a major blood vessel such as the aorta or in the brain
- irregular heartbeat – also called “arrhythmia“
- bypass surgery of a blocked artery in the heart or legs
- heart muscle disease or an enlarged heart – also called “cardiomyopathy“
- coronary artery disease
- died young or suddenly
- fainting episodes
- hardening of the arteries – also called “atherosclerosis“
- heart attack
- heart failure
- heart transplant
- high blood pressure – also called “hypertension“
- high cholesterol
- stroke or mini-stroke
- sudden infant death syndrome.
- How old were they when they were diagnosed?
- Is the family member an identical twin or fraternal twin?
Remember, your doctor may not be familiar with your family members. So it’s also very helpful to provide information including each person’s:
- Japanese, etc.
- whether they are living or deceased. For those who are deceased, include how old they were when they died.
Turn Information into Action.
Even though you cannot change your family history, knowing your family history can help you reduce your risk of developing heart disease. By talking to your doctor about your heart health family history, together you can look for red flags that might indicate the need for:
- a prevention plan
- preventive screenings
- genetic counseling
- potentially, genetic testing.
People with a family history of heart disease and related conditions may have the most to gain from screening tests and lifestyle changes. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, such as a doctor trained specifically in genetics or a genetic counselor who can determine your genetic risks.
Here are some examples of red flags that you can be “on the watch for” in your family history:
Heart disease at a young age in one or more close relatives
- male before age 55
- female before age 65
- Heart disease in both your mother and father
Two or more close relatives on the same side of the family with the same or related conditions, such as:
- heart disease
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure.
- Sudden death in a relative who seemed healthy
A relative who has been diagnosed with a specific type of hereditary heart disease, such as:
- heart muscle disease or an enlarged heart – also called “cardiomyopathy”
- irregular heartbeat – also called “arrhythmia”
- cholesterol disorders.
- Two or more relatives on the same side of the family with a congenital heart defect.
Additional red flags may exist. You can explore these with your doctor or genetic counselor. By understanding your genetic risk factors, you and your doctor can take preventive measures that may save your life – and the lives of your loved ones.
Take Charge of Your Life.
In addition to talking to your doctor about your family history, you can reduce your risk of heart disease by doing the following:
- If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
Eat a balanced diet low in sodium and high in:
- whole grains
- low-fat or fat-free dairy products
- lean meats.
- Get active and exercise often.
- Lose weight if you are overweight.
- Manage your stress levels.
Take medications prescribed by your doctor to control conditions such as:
- high cholesterol
- high blood pressure
Resources to Help You
- Learn more about your risk for coronary heart disease based on your personal and family health history at Family HealthLink.
- Create a Medical Family Tree to chart your family history of coronary heart disease.
Hope Through Research – You Can Be Part of the Answer!
Many research studies are underway to help us learn about heart disease. Would you like to find out more about being part of this exciting research? Please visit the following links:
- Heart Disease Studies (ClinicalTrials.gov)
- ClinicalTrials.gov Explained
- ResearchMatch Explained
- NetWellness Research Center
- Research Studies for Minorities
- Taking Part in Research: You Can Be Part of the Answer – Video
For more information:
Go to the Heart Health health topic.