You eat well, get regular exercise and don’t smoke in an effort to keep your heart healthy. But the one factor you can’t control is family health history.
When heart disease runs in the family, it automatically puts everyone at a higher risk. But the more you know, the better you’ll be able to limit its impact on your health. Although you can’t control this risk factor, you can take steps to minimize its effect.
It starts with understanding who in your family has/had heart disease and when they developed it. For example, having an immediate family member, such as your parents or a sibling, develop heart disease at a younger age significantly increases risk of developing it yourself.
This is when genetic testing comes into play. If you or an immediate family member is diagnosed with heart failure, arrhythmia or an aortic condition, genetic testing can help identify if there are specific genes that led to that pathology. We then use these findings to determine if others in your family should also get tested for the specific gene abnormality.
You’ll also want to consider related genetic factors that can increase risk of heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. According to the American Heart Association, African Americans are at an increased risk for high blood pressure and diabetes. Hispanic Americans are at an increased risk for high cholesterol.
If your family history indicates you’re at a higher risk for heart disease, there are a few steps you can take. Start with talking to your primary care provider and learn more about your heart numbers, including blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. You might also consider getting a heart scan, which is a non-invasive test that takes just 15 minutes to complete and detects early build-up of calcium in the arteries.
Although genetics are a strong determining factor for developing heart disease, making lifestyle changes can help lower your risk. Start with these four steps:
- Eat a healthy diet that includes a mix of vegetables and fruit, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats.
- Get regular exercise – 30 minutes a day, five days a week is enough for most adults.
- Manage stress.
- Avoid or quit smoking.
Edward-Elmhurst Health is a national leader in heart care. We treat more than 40,000 heart and vascular patients annually.