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Nature vs. Nurture: Predicting Your Heart’s Future

Nature vs. Nurture: Predicting Your Heart’s Future

Aug 17, 2020

You may have heard the statistics. Heart disease and stroke are among the top causes of death in America. If your family has a history of heart problems, you may be at a higher risk. Studies show that some genetics can even double your risk of heart disease. Knowing your family’s health history is the first step to avoiding a heart attack or stroke in the future.

Nature: Get To Know Your Genes

Understanding your family’s heart history can help reduce your own risk of heart disease. Physicians recommend beginning with your immediate family’s history. If your sibling has a cardiovascular condition, your own risk of disease may be 40% higher. If you have a parent with heart disease, you may have up to a 75% higher risk. The number and age of affected relatives can also help your doctor identify your overall risk.

If your family has no history of heart disease, other genetic factors can still contribute to your risk. Statistics indicate that both Black and Hispanic individuals are at a higher risk of heart conditions such as stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. If you do not have access to your family’s health history and want to learn more about your potential risk level, genetic testing can provide vital answers.

Nurture: Look Beyond Your Past

Once you understand your family’s health history, changing behaviors is the next key step. It’s important to know that genes alone aren’t the only factor influencing heart health. Lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise, and environmental factors, including exposure to pollution and pesticides, can all contribute to your risk. These factors, called epigenetics, can actually alter how your genes may affect you.

This emerging field of study might explain why healthy lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of cardiovascular conditions by half despite genetic predispositions. The evidence indicates that making healthy lifestyle choices today is one of the simplest ways you can avoid heart disease in the future.

Be Proactive For Your Heart’s Future

It’s important to know your family’s medical history and share it with your doctor as soon as possible. Physicians also strongly recommend seeking out comprehensive cardiovascular screenings. These tests should go beyond annual cholesterol and blood pressure checks by assessing lipid parameters and less traditional risk factors. If you do have a genetic predisposition for heart disease, it’s even more important to begin routine cardiovascular screenings early.

To schedule a cardiovascular screening, you can make an appointment with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician or cardiologist. If you have a known pre-existing heart condition, learn more about how St. Luke’s Health’s nationally ranked cardiovascular team can help.

Sources:
American Heart Association | Family History and Heart Disease, Stroke
U.S. News & World Report | Family History of Heart Disease? Here’s What to Do About It
Canadian Family Physician | Family history of cardiovascular disease
Harvard Health | Heart disease: All in the family history