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Is Heart Disease Hiding In Your Family Tree?
September 1, 2012
James H O'Keefe, M.D.
You’ve no doubt heard the old adage, “The apple never falls far from the tree.” That’s definitely true when it comes to your heart health.
Did your father have heart failure? Did your mother have a heart attack? Did any of your grandparents have heart disease?
Those might seem like random questions, but they’re very important when it comes to understanding your risk for heart disease and they’re questions we’ll ask you when you come to see us. Knowing your family’s health history can help you avoid heart disease – the number one cause of death in America.
In fact, if you have a history of heart disease in your family, you’re more likely to have it too. If you don’t know your family’s full health history, start with your immediate family. Find out if your brothers, sisters, parents or grandparents had heart disease and how old they were when they developed it. What you find out about those closest to you on your family tree has the most bearing on your own risk factors.
If you have a family history, what can you do about it?
Your family history provides a picture of the environment and genetics in place when disease occurred. Though you can’t choose your relatives, you can choose to counter the influence of genetics by managing the risk factors you can control.
Even if your family has a clean bill of health, you should be aware of other genetic factors that can increase your family’s risk. For example, statistics show that African-Americans face higher risks for high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Statistics also indicate that one in four Latinos will suffer from high blood pressure, and nearly half will battle high blood cholesterol.
Just because your family has a history of cardiovascular disease, doesn’t mean that you will certainly have the same diseases, it just means that you are more likely to have them.
That makes lowering your risk factors by changing behaviors that can increase your chances of getting heart disease even more important. You can reduce your risk of cardiovascular death, in spite of your family history, by reaching seven specific goals from the American Heart Association including:
• Don’t smoke.
• Achieve and maintain normal weight (BMI less than25 kg/m2).
• Exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week (or a total of 150 minutes per week).
• Eat fruits and vegetables with each of your three meals.
• Maintain a total cholesterol less than 200 mg/dL.
• Maintain a blood pressure less than 120/80.
• Achieve glucose levels less than 100 mg/dL.
Currently, only one percent of American adults meet all seven of these goals for sound cardiovascular health. If you can achieve even five or more of the goals (only 20 percent of people currently do), you will have an 80 percent lower risk of dying from any cause over the next decade and a 90 percent lower risk of dying from cardiovascular causes compared to someone who is meeting none of these goals.
If you have a history of heart disease in your family tree, it’s even more important that you take these goals seriously. Talk with your doctor about your risk factors, and do all you can to be sure that when it comes to heart disease, your family tree is firmly rooted in a healthy lifestyle.
Dr. O’Keefe is a cardiologist with Saint Luke’s Cardiovascular Consultants, located in Lee’s Summit at 20 N.E. Saint Luke’s Blvd., Suite 110, 816-931-1883. To read Dr. O’Keefe’s newsletter, From the Heart, online visit: http://www.saintlukeshealthsystem.org/saint-lukes-cardiovascular-consultants-newsletter.
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