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Family Medical History: Improve Your Heart Health with Knowledge

One of the risk factors for heart disease is something you can't change: family medical history. If your father or mother had heart disease, you are more likely to get it than someone whose parents had healthy hearts. But this doesn't mean you can't lower your risks.

It's important for you to know whether someone in your family has had heart disease so you can share it with your doctor. If your parent, sibling or child was diagnosed with heart disease or died quickly from heart problems at a young age (before age 65 in women or before age 55 in men), you have a higher chance of getting heart disease.

Heart disease can be partly caused by genes from your parents but also partly by an unhealthy lifestyle (such as eating unhealthy foods, smoking and not working out).

You can find out more about your chances of getting heart disease by answering the questions below:

  • How many people in your family have had heart problems?
  • Are they a close part of your family?
  • At what age did they become ill?
  • At what age did they die?

If someone in your family has had heart disease, it will add to your chances for heart disease, even if you don't have other risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes.

What's more, women with a family history of early heart disease are 3 times more likely to have heart problems and 5 times more likely to die from heart disease than women with no family history of heart disease. Learn more about the differences between men and women's heart health.

It's also important to note that the younger your relative was when they had heart disease and the more people in your family that have it, the higher your chance of getting it.

While you can't change your family history, you can lower your risk by changing your habits. Once you know your chances of having heart problems, there are 4 steps you can take to lessen your odds:

  • Make healthy lifestyle choices. Stay active, eat well, lose weight, watch your blood pressure and don't smoke.
  • Tell your doctor about your history to catch any problems early. Screening tests can help uncover heart disease as well as diabetes and many cancers.
  • Take your prescriptions regularly.
  • Make a profile of your family health history. The U.S. Surgeon General offers an online tool called "My Family Health Portrait." It is easy to fill out and serves as a summary of all your family health history.

By taking these steps, you can turn your family medical history into a powerful preventive tool.

Sources: US Surgeon General's Family History Initiative, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Women Heart, The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease

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