Did your great grandma have heart disease? Did grandpa have a heart attack? What about your mom and dad, aunts and uncles? Following the pattern of heart issues in your family can help predict the likelihood of you or other family members having the same condition. February is American Heart Month and a good reminder to make time for a quick family history check. Here are the top five things you should know about your family history and what to take to heart.
When it comes to your family history, take it to heart.
1. Know your history.
Exploring your family history and sharing it with your primary health care provider is a good idea for more reasons than just heart health, but knowing your heart disease risk is a good place to start if you’ve never taken the time to think about the family tree. Even if you don’t know your full family history or don’t have the time or resources to track your ancestry back over centuries, start with what you do know. A good place to begin is your immediate family. Take note of whether your brothers, sisters, parents or grandparents on both sides experienced heart disease or stroke, along with their age when they were diagnosed. The American Heart Association (AHA) provides an easy-to-use family health tree to help you organize this information quickly.
2. Go beyond the history.
There are other genetic factors to be aware of, even if your family has a clean bill of heart health. Demographic factors such as race, ethnicity, and gender can have an impact on your risk of developing certain conditions. For example, according to the AHA, African-Americans face higher risks for high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
3. Lifestyle matters.
Regardless of your family history, lifestyle is still the number one way to prevent heart issues. Making healthy lifestyle changes is always a smart choice. The AHA promotes “Life’s Simple 7”—seven steps designed to improve your health. They’re the top changes that are easy for anyone to make, they aren’t expensive and even small improvements will make a big difference in your health.
- Manage Blood Pressure
- Control Cholesterol
- Reduce Blood Sugar
- Get Active
- Eat Better
- Lose Weight
- Stop Smoking
At Priority Health, members have access to our Wellbeing Hub to keep healthy living top-of-mind throughout the year. The Wellbeing Hub offers a customizable menu with information and tools tailored to specific health and wellbeing needs. The personalized online hub helps members find new exercise ideas, tools to quit smoking, tips to lose weight, new heart healthy recipes to try and more—all customized to their individual journey.
4. Set a plan of action.
No matter what’s in your past, don’t let it dictate your future. If your family history is all-clear, don’t forget about your lifestyle to keep your heart healthy. And if you determine your family tree does show some genetic concerns, a healthy lifestyle still matters, but it’s also a good idea to set time to talk to your doctor or primary health care provider. They can help you to determine a care plan moving forward.
5. Consult your doctor before pursuing genetic testing.
Genetic testing is becoming increasingly available for genetic heart conditions. These are complex genetic conditions that require a team of certified professionals to determine testing and treatment plans for patients and their families. Certified Genetic Counselors work with these patients and their families in close partnership with geneticists, cardiologists, family or internal medicine doctors, nurses, social workers and other members of the care team.
Often, genetic testing is not required for heart disease or heart attack, especially when a family member’s lifestyle, such as smoking or not being active, was the cause of their condition or symptoms.
You should consult your doctor before pursuing genetic testing and use caution when considering expensive home testing kits. Any results you’re concerned about should be reviewed with a certified health care provider.
During Heart Month in February, and every month, knowing your family history is important. So is sharing this information with your doctor or primary health care provider so that they can provide the best care path for you. When it comes to your family history, take it to heart.