Collect And Share Your Family Health History Of Heart Disease
Each year in the United States, about 659,000 people die from heart disease. Some medical conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, and lifestyle factors, such as an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, and smoking, can make you more likely to develop heart disease. In addition, having close blood relatives with heart disease can make you more likely to get heart disease.
Finding and treating familial hypercholesterolemia early reduces coronary heart disease risk by about 80%.
If you have a family health history of heart disease, collect information on your relatives with heart disease, including what age they were diagnosed. This is especially important if you have a parent, brother, or sister with heart disease. Share this information with your doctor so you can work together on steps to lower your chances of getting heart disease.
These steps can include
- managing your diabetes, if you have it,
- having screening tests done that your doctor recommends, and
- taking medication if needed to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
Rhiannon writes about living with familial hypercholesterolemia.
Understanding The Types Of Genetic Heart Disease
There are many kinds of inherited heart diseases that can run in families. The most common include:
- Bicuspid aortic valve disease, when your heart valve has only two flaps instead of three, causing it to leak or narrow
- Cardiomyopathy, in which your heart muscle becomes enlarged, thick or stiff. This includes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which can cause cardiac arrest in younger people, especially young athletes.
- , which damages the connective tissues in your heart and blood vessels, making you more prone to aneurysms
- Arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat, including Brugada syndrome, long QT syndrome and Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome
- Cardiac amyloidosis, where your heart builds up protein deposits that make it harder to pump
- Loeys-Dietz syndrome, a connective tissue disorder that can cause an aortic aneurysm
Recent Discoveries Hold The Promise Of Better Detection And Treatment Of Coronary Artery Disease
Coronary artery disease the buildup of cholesterol-laden plaque in the heart’s arteries is by far the most prevalent life-threatening heart condition. Despite many important discoveries, the genetic influence on this complex condition remains far from clear. But research continues to provide clues that may soon improve both the prediction and the treatment of this common disease beyond current testing of risk factors.
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Exercise Reduces Stress Levels
While the relationship between heart disease and exercise is not completely understood, research suggests that regular physical activity has a positive effect on stress levels. Exercising increases your sense of well-being and increases the level of endorphins in your brain, a neurotransmitter that helps your body fight off stress. For example, when you run or do any other aerobic activity, you feel a kind of runners high. This phenomenon may also help prevent heart attacks.
A recent study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine examined nearly half a million people and found a link between high physical activity and decreased risk of heart disease. Exercisers were 50 percent less likely to suffer from a heart attack compared to those who were sedentary. This is a result of genetics. People with low fitness levels are also more likely to suffer from heart attacks.
Another study from the University of Florida suggests that some people with a high risk for heart attacks have a certain gene variation. This genetic variation may affect the flow of blood to the heart and cause it to have a lower blood supply. This discovery might eventually lead to new ways to manage chronic psychological stress and improve the lives of those at risk for heart disease. It is important to recognize genetic differences before they develop a heart condition.
What Are The Symptoms Of An Inherited Heart Condition
Some people with an inherited heart condition have no symptoms, while other people develop symptoms such as:
- dizzy spells
- shortness of breath.
For many families, the first sign theres something wrong is when someone dies suddenly, with no obvious cause. This is known as sudden arrhythmic death syndrome .
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Genetic Testing For Inherited Heart Disease
Medical conditions that run in a family are inherited or geneticcaused by changes in genes that are passed from generation to generation. Many different types of heart disease can be inherited. Some conditions, like high blood pressure or coronary artery disease , run in families but probably result from a number of different genetic changes that individually have a subtle effect, but work collectively in a complex manner to cause disease. In these situations, genetic testing is not yet available. There are other less common inherited heart diseases that are caused by just one or very few genetic changes that have a very strong effect in causing disease. In this Cardiology Patient Page, we describe our approach to this type of inherited heart conditions and genetic testing. Examples include conditions that affect the heart muscle, called inherited cardiomyopathies, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy , dilated cardiomyopathy , and arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy . There are also inherited heart conditions that affect the electrical system of the heart, causing abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias. Examples of inherited arrhythmias include Long QT syndrome and Brugada syndrome. Some of these conditions may require changes in lifestyle or medical therapy. All inherited heart diseases require special attention not only for the individual patient, but also for their family to see if other relatives are in need of medical care.
What Can I Do About A Family History Of Heart Disease
Unfortunately, we cant control our genes whether thats heart disease risk or a receding hairline. But remember: Your family didnt ask for these things any more than you did, so try to cut them some slack.
Also remember that its not just about your family history its about your future behaviors and habits, too. You can start making lifestyle changes to reduce your heart disease risk today. These steps and choices are things that are very much in your control.
In fact, one study found that by living a healthy lifestyle, people at high genetic susceptibility for coronary artery disease were able to reduce their risk by nearly half, compared with an unhealthy lifestyle. Another study found that while heredity does play a role in heart disease, heart-healthy behaviors may actually be more important.
Regardless of your genetics or family history of heart disease, its essential to take these steps so you can help build your heart health:
- Cut out smoking and tobacco use. Quitting smoking or tobacco use can have a big positive effect on your heart and blood vessels.
- Stop or moderate your alcohol use. That generally means no more than two drinks per day for men, or one drink per day for women.
- Get enough exercise. How much is enough? At least 2.5 hours every week, split up however you prefer.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet is filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and fish .
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If I Have A Family History What Can I Do About It
Your family history provides a picture of the environment and genetics in place when these diseases occurred. You cant counteract your genetics, Dr. Kraus said, and so if you have a history you must do what you can to change your environment.
That means lowering your risk by changing behaviors that can increase your chances of getting heart disease or stroke. Its good, healthy living the more that can be ingrained in your family, the more impact it has, Dr. Kraus said. A patient should encourage better eating habits, physical activity and eliminating smoking.
Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome
If an individual has sudden arrhythmia death syndromes , the electrical aspects of the heart dont fire properly, resulting in an abnormal heart rhythm. Family history of unexplained death prior to age 40, consistent chest pain, and fainting are usually the only way to distinguish if youre at risk, according to the SADS Foundation. Unfortunately, many cases of SADS go undiagnosed until after a post-death investigation.
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Is Coronary Heart Disease Genetic
While genetics is one of the risk factors is, that alone is usually not enough to cause coronary heart disease. If someone has a family history of coronary disease, heart attacks, strokes and elevated cholesterol levels, we know this can increase that persons risk of coronary heart disease. This is because there can be alterations in our genetic makeup that may make one person more likely to develop coronary heart disease, while another person may have genetic alterations that protect them from developing CAD. If you have a family member with CAD, this increases your risk for having inherited those genetic risk factors.
Is Heart Disease Genetic Destiny Or Lifestyle
Two large studies from Northwestern Medicine confirm a healthy lifestyle has the biggest impact on cardiovascular health. One study shows the majority of people who adopted healthy lifestyle behaviors in young adulthood maintained a low cardiovascular risk profile in middle age. The five most important healthy behaviors are not smoking, low or no alcohol intake, weight control, physical activity and a healthy diet. The other study shows cardiovascular health is due primarily to lifestyle factors and healthy behavior, not heredity.
The studies will be presented Nov. 15 at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2010 in Chicago.
Health behaviors can trump a lot of your genetics, said Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., chair and professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a staff cardiologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. This research shows people have control over their heart health. The earlier they start making healthy choices, the more likely they are to maintain a low-risk profile for heart disease.
Why Many Healthy Young Adults Become High Risk
The first Northwestern Medicine study investigated why most young adults, who have a low-risk profile for heart disease, often tip into the high-risk category by middle age with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and excess weight.
Tracking Three Generations of Families for Cardiovascular Health
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Genetic Heart Disease Testing
The Cardiovascular Genetics Center at UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute specializes in testing and caring for people with inherited diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
A regional and national leader in cardiovascular genetics, we offer comprehensive tests for heart disease, access to cutting-edge diagnostics, and advanced treatments for all forms of inheritable heart and vascular diseases.
What Causes An Inherited Heart Condition
Your body is made up of trillions of cells. Each cell has a nucleus, containing information that makes you unique. This information is called your genes. We all have between 20,000 and 25,000 different genes each.
Genes affect how we look and how our bodies work, and we inherit them from our parents. Inherited heart conditions are caused by a fault in one or more of our genes. If one of your parents has a faulty gene, theres a 50:50 chance you could have it too. If you do, then theres also a 50:50 chance you could pass it on to your children.
Its possible to have a faulty gene that can lead to a heart condition, but you may never develop any signs or symptoms of the condition itself. If this happens, you can still pass the faulty gene onto your child and theres no way of knowing how it may affect them.
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Other Ways To Reduce The Risk Of Heart Disease
Although the NEJM study didnt look at the following factors, research suggests that they, too, are beneficial in reducing the risk of heart disease:
Get enough sleep. Poor-quality sleep increases blood pressure, an important risk factor for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association. Aim for six to eight hours per night of quality sleep.
Manage diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes damages blood vessels, making you more susceptible to heart disease. Youre also more likely to have a heart attack without realizing it, because diabetes can damage nerves that signal pain. Keep your blood glucose levels under control.
Ask about medication. If diet and exercise arent enough to reduce your blood pressure or cholesterol, talk to your doctor about prescribing medication.
Reduce stress. Stress doesnt directly cause heart disease, but it can increase the likelihood youll engage in other risk factors such as smoking, drinking alcohol, overeating and being inactive. Learn to alleviate stress in healthy ways, such as deep breathing, exercising or simply taking time to relax.
Genetic Heart Disease Evaluation And Treatment
Without proper management, genetic heart diseases can lead to heart failure, sudden cardiac arrest, or early heart attack. Our medical team ensures you receive the latest, most appropriate approaches, with a range of treatments to help you live life to the fullest. We also offer inpatient care and effective options for more serious conditions.
Genetic changes in heart disease: Our medical team and other researchers at Stanford continue to identify more genetic mutations, or differences, that cause heart disease. Our center has pioneered the use of whole genome sequencing, not yet common practice but likely the future of care. Our genetic counselors research and speak nationally about more accurate genetic test interpretation.
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Chapter 3prediction Then Prevention
Using cutting-edge data analysis, Dr. Paré and his team have discovered thousands of relatively common genetic variants to include in their risk score. His next goal is to find a way to integrate these with rarer genetic mutations that are known to cause disease in the people who carry them.
Eventually he hopes that these risk scores could be used on a large scale. There are a lot of challenges on how we’re going to implement this and how it’s going to reach clinical care and clinical guidelines, says Dr. Paré.
It may take 10 years or more to get there. But he is determined. It’s entirely possible to think of a future where we take a blood draw, and by combining genetic information plus blood biomarkers, we will be able to make very precise prediction of someone’s risk of having a heart attack or stroke, or even of developing other diseases such as colon cancer or lung cancer. And hopefully we will be able to act on this.
Dr. Paré is determined to beat early heart attacks.
And hes relying on Heart & Stroke donors to continue funding this research.
What Health Conditions Increase The Risk Of Heart Disease
High blood pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is a medical condition that happens when the pressure of the blood in your arteries and other blood vessels is too high. The high pressure, if not controlled, can affect your heart and other major organs of your body, including your kidneys and brain.
High blood pressure is often called a silent killer because it usually has no symptoms. The only way to know whether you have high blood pressure is to measure your blood pressure. You can lower your blood pressure with lifestyle changes or with medicine to reduce your risk for heart disease and heart attack. Learn more about blood pressure.
Unhealthy blood cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver or found in certain foods. Your liver makes enough for your bodys needs, but we often get more cholesterol from the foods we eat.
If we take in more cholesterol than the body can use, the extra cholesterol can build up in the walls of the arteries, including those of the heart. This leads to narrowing of the arteries and can decrease the blood flow to the heart, brain, kidneys, and other parts of the body.
There are two main types of blood cholesterol: LDL cholesterol, which is considered to be bad cholesterol because it can cause plaque buildup in your arteries, and HDL cholesterol, which is considered to be good cholesterol because higher levels provide some protection against heart disease.
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What Is Inherited Heart Disease
Unlike conditions tied to aging or lifestyle, inherited heart diseases are passed on through your parents genes. That means it runs in the family.
If you have an inherited heart disease, well care for you with compassion and nationally recognized clinical excellence and offer genetic testing and advanced diagnosis to your entire family. This helps your loved ones prevent possible serious complications from developing, giving everyone peace of mind now and for the future.
Schedule Your Geneticcounseling Consultation
Genetic testing is right for people who have symptoms of a genetic heart disease or have a family history of a genetic heart condition. It might also be right for you if you dont fit into these situations, but wish to be proactive about your health. Speaking to a genetic counselor can help you learn more about this.
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Are Heart Attacks Hereditary
Anyone can be affected by heart disease, but your age, habits and family history can be key indicators when it comes to assessing individual risks.
Is it safe to say heart attacks can be hereditary? Cardiovascular risk can certainly be inherited from one generation to the next, says Shaddy Younan, M.D., a board certified cardiologist. If you have a parent or a sibling affected by heart attack or coronary artery disease, your risk of those conditions is increased. In addition, in some patients, rare genetic factors can lead to heart failure.
A number of heart-related conditions are often seen in multiple generations, including: