In our practice as premier Hackensack cardiologists – when we meet new patients one of the first things we ask them is whether there is a history of heart disease or cardiovascular disease in their family. And we ask this for a good reason, because there is strong body of evidence that suggests that if you have a father, mother, brother, or sister who has been diagnosed with heart disease, you are at higher risk of developing it yourself. Similarly, if your family members have diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), or atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), you are at increased risk of developing these disorders yourself. You need to know these things about your family to be fully aware of your risk.
Putting your family’s medical history into context
If your family has a history of heart disease, genetics predicts that you will be at higher risk of developing it yourself. Heredity – like your age, your sex, your race, and other factors outside your control – can increase your risk of heart disease. But it doesn’t mean that you will develop it yourself – your family history is merely one predictor among many, and many of these other predictors you can do something about it.
For example, there are at least four predictors of high heart disease risk that are more important than genetics – smoking, high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and obesity. All of these risk factors are under your control, so you can work with your Hackensack heart doctor to take steps to lower them, and thus take proactive steps to prevent heart disease.
The sooner you know what your risk factors are, the sooner you can do something about them
For example, whether you have “family history” risk factors or not, if you currently smoke you can cut your risk of a heart attack in half within a year by quitting. Similarly, if you are overweight, losing weight will significantly reduce your risk, whether you have “family history” risks or not.
Knowing that you have a higher risk because of your family history of heart disease is thus not an inevitability – in a way it’s a gift. As Hackensack cardiologists, we occasionally meet patients who talk about “the family curse” of heart disease, as if it were a pattern that they can’t avoid, believing that if their parents had heart disease, they’ll get it, too. The reality is just the opposite.
If you’re aware that you have a higher risk because of your family history, it can inspire you to take steps to reduce other risk factors. You can start getting regular heart checkups in your 20s or 30s, to make sure problems like hypertension and high cholesterol levels aren’t beginning to appear. If they are, you can lower these levels via exercise, eating a more “heart-healthy” diet, or medication. You can start making more “heart healthy” choices earlier in life, and thus to some extent avoid the situations that made your parents or siblings sick.
Start to lower your risk of heart disease today by finding out what it is
Whatever your age, and whether you have a family history of heart disease or not, the best way to make sure you don’t develop it is to get a checkup. Call our Hackensack cardiologists today at 201-299-4479 or go online and we’ll set up an examination to accurately determine your risk for heart disease. Armed with that information, we’ll work with you to develop diet, exercise, and lifestyle options that can significantly lower your risk, and keep you healthy.