Family History and Heart Disease, Stroke
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. 5 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.
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 about 1 in 3 Hispanics will have 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 managed by making lifestyle changes like those included in Life's Essential 8. Start with one or two. This simple, eight step list has been developed to deliver on the hope we all have – to live a long, productive healthy life.
- Fill out the My Family Health Tree (PDF)(link opens in new window) to find out which cardiovascular conditions are in your family.
- African-Americans and Heart Disease, Stroke
- Cooking for Lower Cholesterol
- Managing Blood Pressure with a Heart-Healthy Diet