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Monday, December 9, 2013
Knowledge is one of your strongest weapons against heart disease.
Diseases of the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular diseases) can run in families. Therefore, knowing your family history can provide important information about your health risks. Talk to your family about their heart health history. Create a heart health family tree that you and your doctor can use today - and the next generation of your family can use tomorrow.
Creating Your Heart Health Family Tree
The first step is to talk to your immediate family:
Next, reach out to extended family:
If possible, gather information about cousins, great-uncles and great-aunts. It's also important to include information on relatives who are deceased. Here is the type of information you'll want to gather:
What heart conditions have family members been diagnosed with? Proper names are best. Some examples include:
How old were they when they were diagnosed?
Is the family member a twin (identical or fraternal)?
Remember, your doctor may not be familiar with your family members. So it's also very helpful to provide information including each person's sex, age, ancestry (German, Moroccan, Japanese, etc.) and whether they're living or deceased. For those who are deceased, include how old they were when they died.
Turning Information into Action
Even though you cannot change your family history, knowing your family history can help you reduce your risk of developing heart disease. By talking to your doctor about your heart health family history, together you can look for red flags that might indicate the need for a prevention plan, preventive screenings and genetic counseling and potentially, genetic testing.
People with a family history of heart disease and related conditions may have the most to gain from screening tests and lifestyle changes. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, such as a doctor trained specifically in genetics or a genetic counselor who can determine your genetic risks. Here are some examples of red flags that you can be "on the watch for" in your family history:
Heart disease at a young age in one or more close relatives (male before age 55 or female before age 65)
Additional red flags may exist and can be explored with your doctor or genetic counselor. By understanding your genetic risk factors, you and your doctor can take preventive measures that may save your life - and the lives of your loved ones.
Take Charge of Your Life
In addition to talking to your doctor about your family history, there are some additional things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease:
Last Reviewed: Apr 11, 2011
Amy Curry Sturm, MS, CGC
Clinical Assistant Professor of Human Genetics
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University