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Heart Disease and Your Family History

Your Family History and Heart Disease

Heart disease may be in your family history, but it doesn’t have to be your outcome.

We are all responsible for how healthy we are and how we control our health: how we eat, how much we move around, how we react to daily frustrations and worries.

However, not everything is within our control. Family genetics, for example, is the luck of the draw; your grandmother passed down her propensity for heart disease, but she also gave you your beautiful teeth and curly eyelashes. If you are African American or Latino, your ethnicity is another genetic risk to your heart health.

You cannot change your genetics, but you can educate yourself and know how to mitigate your risk factors.

Two female friends

What You Need to Know

Begin by asking questions about the health and cause of death of your siblings, parents and grandparents. Listen for terms like stroke, heart attack, heart disease, heart failure, CHD, a coronary, coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease and related conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

  • If they are living, are they coping with health problems?
  • If they’ve passed away, what was the cause of death?
  • What other health problems did they have?
  • For all family members, find out how old they were when diagnosed.

You don’t need to research much further back than your grandparents, but you do need to get accurate information, write it down and share it with your healthcare provider.

Control What You Can

Armed with your family history, you can change the environmental factors that increase the chance of heart disease. That part is entirely within your control, and has a direct affect on the genetic risks you may have inherited. You can read articles, take a cooking class, join a gym, schedule screenings or get a complete physical—all are good steps.

Make changes gradually; it's easy to feel overwhelmed when many changes are taking place. Remember: establishing healthy habits is not an all or nothing process. Once you've established a habit move on to the next. The most important step is to make up your mind to make a change.

Small Changes Make a Big Difference:

Healthy Groceries

Give yourself permission to “cheat” on occasion, but also celebrate how it feels to do something healthy, to lose a pound, to breathe easier, to feel better about yourself.

  • Instead of ordering fries at lunch order a salad with lite dressing.
  • Opt for water instead of soda.
  • Go for a brisk walk instead of smoking a cigarette. 
  • Communicate your emotions to your loved ones rather than turning to food for comfort.

Caregiving Considerations

As a caregiver, you have additional environmental factors to consider (and additional responsibilities for which to remain healthy). You may need to take a walk with your loved one, incorporate his dietary needs into your healthy cooking, and find healthier ways of coping with the stress, frustrations and worry that accompany caregiving. You don’t have to do it alone; there’s lots of information available to keep your heart healthy. Start at the American Heart Association’s website.

Like your family history, your role as a caregiver is a given. It’s up to you to change the things you can.

Related Articles:

Caregiver Stress and Heart Disease

Caring for the Caregiver