This holiday season, talk about family health history to determine your heart disease risk – News

    The holiday season is a time when family members come together to share a meal;  doctors recommend taking this opportunity to learn more about family history.    </p><div>



    Written by: Tehreem Khan and UAB Medicine Marketing<br/> Media contact: Anna Jones<p><span class="wf_caption" style="margin-bottom: 10px; margin-left: 20px; float: right; display: inline-block; max-width: 450px;" role="figure"><span style="display: block;">Graphic: Jody Potter</span></span>The holiday season is a time when family and friends come together to share meals and enjoy time with one another.  While many conversation topics can come up at the dinner table, one conversation topic that experts at the Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham say can be fruitful is a conversation about family history. 

Certain risk factors play a role in the development of heart disease and they often run in families. According to Vera Bittner, MD, professor in the Department of Medicine at UAB and section chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases, family history is one of the most important factors to consider when determining your risk of developing heart problems.

“By looking at your health history family tree, you can learn what risk factors you may have inherited and use that information to make lifestyle choices to maintain a healthier heart,” said Bittner.

What is family history?

A family health history is a record of health information about a person and their relatives. A complete record includes information for three generations of relatives. One way to think about this health story is to imagine branches on a tree that represent parents, siblings, grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. In many cases, if someone has a family history of heart problems, their chances of getting heart problems may be higher than normal.

“A family history of a particular health condition means that a relative has or has had that condition,” Bittner said. “By looking at patterns of conditions among relatives, doctors can learn if you are at increased risk of developing a specific condition.”

Impact of family history on heart disease risk

The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease, sometimes called coronary artery disease, in which plaque builds up in the artery. This plaque can be cholesterol, calcium, fat or other substances causing chest pain. Plaque can also develop blood clots, leading to a heart attack. Important risk factors, in addition to family history, are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes.

“Because heart disease can be passed down from generation to generation, patients may wonder if their grandfather’s severe heart condition indicates they will have the same problem, for example,” said Bittner. “This patient may be more concerned if a brother or sister has a heart condition or has had a cardiac event. It is important to remember that the answers to these family history questions are not predictive; they just estimate their risk.”

The best indicator of inherited risk for heart disease is whether any first-degree relatives, such as a parent, brother or sister, are diagnosed with heart disease. The estimated risk level considers whether someone’s parents or siblings had a heart condition or cardiac event before age 55. This could indicate that they are at a higher risk of heart disease than someone who doesn’t have this family history. The health history of second-degree relatives, including grandparents, aunts, and uncles, can also be helpful in estimating heart disease risk.

Follow the branches of the family tree

The easiest way to obtain information about the family’s health history is to talk to relatives.

“Ask them if they’ve had any heart conditions or heart-related medical events and when those events happened,” Bittner said. “A family gathering might be a good time to talk about it. Looking at medical records and other documents can help complete the family’s health history.”

Bittner notes that it’s important for everyone to keep this information up to date and share it with their doctors. To better organize the data, Bittner recommends filling out a family tree chart on the American Heart Association website.

Changing the course of family history

While it’s scary not being able to change the past, the good news is that the present is manageable, which can lead to a future free of heart disease. People who have family members with heart disease are more likely to develop heart disease, but it’s important to note that they can lower this risk by reducing their other risk factors.

“Limiting your risk factors can also allow you to mitigate risks along future branches of your family tree,” said Bittner.

Some risk factors can be changed, treated or modified through changes in lifestyle and healthy habits, following these simple recommendations:

  • Share the detailed family history with the doctor to receive early detection, diagnosis or medication.
  • Follow a heart-healthy diet like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Small amounts of movement add up.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Know and control blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Manage stress by staying organized, getting enough sleep, making time to socialize, and learning to set healthy boundaries.
  • Quit smoking and limit alcohol consumption.
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This holiday season, talk about family health history to determine your heart disease risk – News

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