The holiday season is a time when family members come together to share a meal; doctors recommend taking this opportunity to find out more about his family history.
Written by: Tehreem Khan and UAB Medicine Marketing
Media Contact: Anna Jones
The holiday season is a time when family and friends gather to share meals and spend time together. While many conversation topics can be discussed at the dinner table, one conversation topic that experts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine say could be fruitful is a conversation about the family history.
Certain risk factors play a role in the development of heart disease and often run in families. According to Vera Bittner, MD, a professor in UAB’s Department of Medicine and section chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases, family history is one of the most important factors to consider when determining the risk of developing problems. cardiac.
“By looking at your health history family tree, you can uncover the risk factors you’ve inherited and use that information to make lifestyle choices to maintain a healthier heart,” Bittner said.
What is Family History?
A family medical history is a record containing information about the health of a person and their loved ones. A complete record includes information from three generations of parents. One way to think about this health story is to imagine the branches of 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 disease, their chances of getting heart disease may be higher than normal.
“A family history of a particular health condition means that a relative has, or had, that condition,” Bittner said. “By looking at patterns of conditions among loved ones, doctors can tell if you have an increased risk of developing a particular condition.”
Impact of family history on heart disease risk
The most common type of heart disease is coronary artery disease, sometimes called coronary artery disease, in which plaque builds up in the artery. This plaque can be cholesterol, calcium, fats or other substances, causing chest pain. The plaque can also develop into blood clots, leading to a heart attack. Important risk factors other than 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 disease indicates they will have the same problem, for example,” Bittner said. “This patient may be more worried if a sibling has heart disease or has suffered a cardiac event. It is important to remember that the answers to these family history questions do not offer predictions; they only estimate your risk.
The best indicator of hereditary risk for heart disease is whether a first-degree relative, such as a parent, sibling, has been diagnosed with heart disease. The estimated risk level considers whether a person’s parents or siblings had a heart problem or heart event before age 55. This could indicate that they are at higher risk for heart disease than someone who does not have this family history. Medical histories of second-degree relatives that include grandparents, aunts, and uncles can also be helpful in estimating heart disease risk.
Follow the branches of the family tree
The easiest way to get information about the family’s medical history is to talk to relatives.
“Ask them if they’ve had any heart problems or heart-related medical events, and when those events happened,” Bittner said. “A family reunion might be a good time to talk about it. Reviewing medical records and other documents can help complete the family’s medical history. »
Bittner notes that it’s important for everyone to keep this information up to date and share it with their doctor. To better organize data, Bittner recommends completing a family tree on the American Heart Association website.
Changing the Course of Family History
While it’s daunting not being able to change the past, the good news is that the present is manageable, which can lead to a heart disease-free future. People who have family members with heart disease are more likely to develop heart disease, but it’s important to note that they can reduce this risk by reducing their other risk factors.
“Limiting your risk factors can also allow you to mitigate risk along future branches of your family tree,” Bittner said.
Some risk factors can be changed, treated or modified through lifestyle changes and healthy habits, by following these simple recommendations:
- Share a detailed family history with his doctor to receive early detection, diagnosis or medication.
- Eat 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 your alcohol intake.