Risk factors for heart disease include those that you can control and those that you cannot control. One that has a significant impact is your family history. If you have close relatives who experienced health issues like high blood pressure and heart attacks, then you are more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease. Genetics may also pass on unique cardiac conditions within your family.
While you cannot change your family history, it is possible to live a heart-healthy lifestyle by learning more about inherited conditions and taking action. Below are a few of the more common conditions along with steps to best manage your heart health history.
Types of Inherited Heart Conditions
Coronary Artery Disease: This is the most common type of heart disease, which is often discovered following a heart attack. Coronary artery disease is caused by the buildup of plaque in your arteries which then restricts blood flow to your heart. Symptoms include chest pain, weakness, nausea, and shortness of breath. A family history of having heart disease at an early age increases the likelihood that you will be diagnosed with coronary heart disease. Native Hawaiians are also at-risk with disproportionately higher rates of this cardiovascular issue.1
Familial Hypercholesterolemia: This condition is a genetic disorder that affects how your body manages cholesterol levels. It causes you to have high LDL cholesterol, otherwise known as the “bad” cholesterol, at a younger age. The levels continue to rise as you age, and it increases the risk of coronary artery disease. When identified early, you can manage familial hypercholesterolemia with lifestyle changes and medications. The CDC reports that treating this condition early reduces your heart disease risk by about 80 percent.2 To better understand the difference between the “good” and “bad” cholesterol, read our blog here.
Cardiomyopathy: With this disease, your heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick, or stiff. It makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. Cardiomyopathy can cause heart failure, arrhythmias, or heart valve problems. There are multiple types of cardiomyopathies, but the two more common that are inherited are dilated and hypertrophic. Genetic testing may be recommended if you have a family history of this disease.
Steps to Manage Inherited Heart Conditions
Learn Your Family History: The first step is to talk to your family to learn more about their health issues and any heart conditions. Immediate family members include siblings, parents, and grandparents. Discuss their past and current cardiovascular conditions and at what ages they experienced issues. Use this Family Health Tree from the American Heart Association to write down what you learn.
Talk to Your Doctor: Gather the information from your family and share it with your healthcare team. If you have a family history of heart disease, it is important to let your doctor know details and ages. If a male family member was younger than 55 years old, or a female family member was younger than 65 years old, that is considered premature heart disease. Your doctor may want to discuss screenings such as genetic tests, stress tests or echocardiograms.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle: Family history is only one part of your risk for heart disease. The other part of living a long and healthy life is your environment, which you can control. Be sure to focus on a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables, take part in routine physical activity, manage your blood pressure and cholesterol, and avoid smoking and tobacco products.