Family History and Heart Disease, Stroke

Updated:Sep 30,2014

Is heart disease or stroke in your family? If so, your risk may be higher.

Did your father have a stroke? Did your mother have a heart attack? Did any of your grandparents have heart disease?

Those might seem like random questions, but they’re very important when it comes to understanding your risk for these diseases. Knowing your family’s health history can help you avoid both heart disease and stroke – the No. 1 and No. 4 causes of death in America.

“Both the risk of heart disease and risk factors for heart disease are strongly linked to family history,” said William Kraus, M.D., a preventive cardiologist and research scientist at Duke University “If you have a stroke in your family, you are more likely to have one.”

How much family history do you need to know?
Dr. Kraus, who is also a volunteer for the American Heart Association, said you should share your family history with your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

If you don’t know the full history, start with your immediate family. Find out if your brothers, sisters, parents or grandparents had heart disease or stroke and how old they were when they developed these diseases.

However, there’s no need for a major research project beyond those relatives.

“You don’t need to research your great grandparent’s health history because the environment of a great grandparent is not relevant to one that’s living now,” Dr. Kraus said. “The medical treatments and the environment were very different.”

If I have a family history, what can I do about it?
Your family history provides a picture of the environment and genetics in place when these diseases occurred. “You can’t counteract your genetics,” Dr. Kraus said, and so if you have a history you must do what you can to change your environment.

That means lowering your risk by changing behaviors that can increase your chances of getting heart disease or stroke. “It’s good, healthy living – the more that can be ingrained in your family, the more impact it has,” Dr. Kraus said. “A patient should encourage better eating habits, physical activity and eliminating smoking.”

Other genetic factors to be aware of.
Even if your family has a clean bill of health, you should be aware of other genetic factors that can increase your family’s risk. For example, statistics show that African-Americans face higher risks for high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. Statistics also indicate that 1 in 4 Latinos will suffer from high blood pressure, and nearly half will battle high blood cholesterol.

So I’ve got history concerns … what next?
Just because your family has a history of cardiovascular disease, does not mean that you will certainly have the same diseases, it just means that you are more likely to have them. Disease is not imminent, and your health can be controlled by making lifestyle changes like those included in Life's Simple 7™.

If you want to start living a healthier life, look no further than Life’s Simple 7™. My Life Check was designed by the American Heart Association with the goal of improved health by educating the public on how best to live. These measures have one unique thing in common: any person can make these changes, the steps are not expensive to take and even modest improvements to your health will make a big difference.

Start with one or two. This simple, seven step list has been developed to deliver on the hope we all have--to live a long, productive healthy life.

Take the My Life Check assessment now! It only takes about seven minutes!

Learn more: Population Fact Sheets 2012 Update:

Sign up for Heart360

Knowing your health numbers is a key to a longer, healthier life. Sign up for Heart360 today.

Cardiovascular Conditions

Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter
 
 
 
Choose at least one option (required):
 
By clicking submit below you agree to the Terms and Conditions

What's Your Risk?

Determine your riskDetermine your risk of having a heart attack or dying from coronary heart disease and get a report to discuss with your healthcare provider.