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Know Your Family History

Paying Attention Could Save Your Life

While you can't change your genetic makeup, paying attention to your family's history of heart disease could save your life, according to a new study.

Research Findings

Scottish researchers found knowing the risk factors of close relatives with coronary heart disease could prevent more than 40 percent of heart deaths. The analysis showed 48 percent of major heart events, such as heart attacks, occur in families with a history of disease. For example, having a brother or sister who had a heart attack or other coronary event puts you at twice the normal risk of having one yourself. The research is published in the British Medical Journal.

"There are certain factors you can control and certain ones, like age and family history that you can't," says Dr. Joe Kannam, a cardiologist at The CardioVascular Institute at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. "But knowing if your grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles have had heart trouble is critical to discovering your own risk of heart disease."

Role of Ethnic Background and Race

In addition to knowing your family's cardiac history, you should also know ethnic background and race as these factors also play a role in heart risk.

  • African Americans have more severe high blood pressure than Caucasians and a higher risk of heart disease.
  • Heart disease risk is also more prevalent among Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans. This is partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes.

"Those who know they are at higher risk to begin with are more motivated to make lifestyle changes to keep their hearts healthy," says. Dr. Kannam. "That could mean being more physically active, eating better and avoiding tobacco."

Learn About Your Family History

Dr. Kannam and the American Heart Association suggest you learn more about family history by talking at family gatherings and looking through medical records. You should try to find out the following-- major medical conditions and causes of death, age of disease onset and age at death, and ethnic background of first and second relatives.

Discuss Your Disease Risk with Your Doctor

You can also download a family tree form, fill it out and bring it to your next doctor's appointment. Your physician will be able to assess your disease risk and recommend lab tests and lifestyle changes to further evaluate and lessen your risk.

Above content provided by The American Heart Association in partnership with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Contact Information

CardioVascular Institute at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

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