Understanding Family History and Heart Disease

While a healthy diet, routine exercise and refraining from tobacco use are all good lifestyle choices, not all risk factors for heart disease can be avoided with healthy practices. In addition to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, family history is one of the leading risk factors for developing heart disease.

“It’s important for all of us to be aware that heart disease is so prevalent and it starts with looking at your family and who in your family might have had it,” said Dr. Frederick Meadors, a cardiovascular surgeon with the CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute. “None of us are immune to having heart disease. I have a family history of it myself.”

What Counts as a Family History of Heart Disease

Recognizing the history of heart disease in your family is one of the first steps toward preventing the same outcome in your own life. Whether it’s a grandparent, mother, father or sibling, it’s important to know of any immediate family members that have suffered from heart disease.

“If you know heart disease runs in your family, you have to be aware of that and begin preventative measures to improve your chances of avoiding surgery before you’re confronted with it,” said Dr. Michael Bauer, cardiovascular surgeon with the CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute.

Does Family History Mean Heart Disease Is Inevitable?

As the leading cause of death in the United States, it’s not uncommon for many people to have a close relative that has been diagnosed with coronary artery disease. However, a genetic predisposition does not mean that heart disease is inevitable and there are still a number of different measures that can be taken to mitigate risk.

“We have to take a look at ourselves, be honest about the condition we’re in and take a look at where there may be room for improvement,” Dr. Meadors said. “A sedentary lifestyle is terrible, smoking is terrible, obesity is terrible and all of these things contribute to a risk for coronary artery disease.”

Next Steps If You Have a Family History of Heart Disease

Even with a commitment to healthy practices, the journey to limiting your risk for heart disease is not one that should be taken alone, particularly for those with a family history. Maintaining a relationship and routine checkups with a cardiologist is one of the keys to avoid becoming the next heart disease patient in the family.

“Coronary artery disease is the number one killer (in the United States), so you definitely want to start finding out where you are earlier rather than later,” said Dr. Bauer. “Everybody has a little bit different way they practice, but I don’t think you should go more than a year without having your heart checked, especially if you have heart disease in your family or if you have any of these risk factors.”

An understanding of family history and healthy choices isn’t always enough to prevent heart disease. That’s where our cardiologists and surgeons at the CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute come in with the latest diagnostic tests and treatments.

To learn more about heart disease and treatment options at the CHI St. Vincent Heart Institute, visit: chistvincent.com/heart