Knowing your family history can save your life — especially if your parents or grandparents had heart disease. Like many medical conditions, heart problems can run in families, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to avoid them.
Everyone has different risk factors, and by finding out if you have heart problems in your family tree, you can take an important first step in managing your risks.
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What Is a Risk Factor?
A risk factor is something that makes you more or less likely to have, or get, a type of medical condition.
You can’t control some risk factors for heart disease, like your age, gender, or family history. But you can control other risk factors, especially those linked to habits and lifestyle choices, like your weight, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, ability to cope with stress, and smoking.
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Am I at Risk of Heart Problems?
Understanding your family history is key to managing your risk factors. A good first step is to find out if your parents, grandparents, and other close relatives, like aunts, uncles, and siblings, have or have had:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack
- Heart rhythm problems
- Heart muscle disease
- A history of blood clots or blood vessel problems
What Can I Do to Lower My Risk of Heart Disease?
You might think that if heart disease runs in your family, there’s nothing you can do to avoid it — but that doesn’t have to be true. You can make many healthy choices that will help keep your risk low.
Checkups and screenings
Start with a visit to your doctor, and get regular checkups and screenings to keep an eye on your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. You can also talk with your doctor about the signs and symptoms to watch out for, as well as other tests and screenings you may need as you get older.
If you do have a condition that raises your risk, like high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s orders. Stay on your medicine and make sure to get prescriptions refilled before you run out. Never stop taking medicine without talking to your doctor first.
Healthy lifestyle choices and heart health
Because many risk factors for heart disease are linked to lifestyle, you can make healthy choices that keep your risk low.
Eat heart-healthy foods, get regular physical activity, find healthy ways to cope with stress, and quit or avoid using tobacco products. If you struggle with healthy lifestyle choices, talk to your doctor. Many hospitals offer lifestyle management programs to help people stay on track.
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine.