By Johnita Darton, M.D.
Is there a history of heart disease, high cholesterol or high blood pressure in your family? Have any relatives died from a stroke or a heart attack?
Your family’s history of heart disease is a major indicator of your own risk, but history doesn’t have to repeat itself. The good news is, armed with this knowledge you can take control of your own health, maintain a healthy heart, and prevent heart disease.
If you have a brother or father who was diagnosed with heart disease before age 55 or a sister or mother diagnosed with heart disease prior to the age of 65, you’re considered to have an increased risk of heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. Having a relative die of heart complications before age 60 doubles your own risk of premature heart disease, according to a study in the Journal of American College of Cardiology. If it’s a parent or sibling, your risk increases 72 percent. If there are two or more premature cardiovascular deaths, your risk increases two-fold compared to only one.
If a family member has or had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or atherosclerosis (a build-up of fat in the arteries), you may also be at increased risk of heart disease.
Know your numbers
For people with a family history of cardiovascular disease, it’s important to see your doctor before symptoms arise. It’s critical for you to be aware of your own risk. The numbers to be aware of are your cholesterol level, blood pressure and waist size. High cholesterol and high blood pressure put you at risk for heart disease and other cardiovascular problems. If you have a family history of heart disease, cholesterol testing and blood pressure checks should begin as early as your twenties, to help determine if your levels are in the normal range. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease, especially if you carry your weight in your belly. Your doctor will be able to measure and evaluate all of these health indicators for you.