Is heart disease in your genes? Why it’s important to know
Did your father have a heart attack or stroke? Does your mother have high blood pressure, or do your siblings have cardiac stents or coronary artery disease? Knowing the cardiovascular history of your family is crucial for you – and your physician – to understand what your cardiovascular future may hold.
Even if you are living a healthy lifestyle and have no signs of problems, you live with the genetic makeup of your parents, for better or worse.
“If you have two parents who have heart disease,” Dr. Gordon explains, “your chances of having heart disease are pretty high, especially if they were diagnosed at an early age.”
It might not always be easy to talk to your parents about their health, and some people are reluctant to discuss their medical issues. Dr. Gordon recommends approaching the subject from an angle of wanting to work with your physician to keep yourself healthy.
Physicians need to know what conditions their patients’ first-degree family members have been diagnosed with, what cardiovascular incidents they have had, and at what ages. The information is useful in assessing the chance that a patient might also develop heart disease.
“If they have two or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Gordon says, “their physician might talk to them about seeing a cardiologist for an evaluation.”
Those who have a family history of heart disease shouldn’t panic, however. There are treatments available for many risk factors, such as high blood pressure, and there are also ways they can change their lifestyles to reduce their risk of developing heart disease.
Not smoking, eating a healthy diet high in fresh vegetables and low in fats and cholesterol, reducing salt in the diet, limiting alcohol and keeping a healthy weight are some of them. Exercising regularly, for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, is another.
“Physical activity is extremely important,” Dr. Gordon says. “Regular exercise significantly lowers your risk for heart disease.”
Exercise is also a great way to manage stress, which is another risk factor for heart disease.
“Especially if you have a family history of early cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Gordon says, “these recommendations can certainly slow down the process of heart disease and add good, healthy years to your life.”
Dr. Gordon sees patients at the Morris Hospital Cardiovascular Specialists’ offices in Channahon, Morris and Ottawa. For more information, go to morrishospital.org/cvspecialists.