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Am I at Risk for Genetic Heart Disease?

Doctor Q&A

Cardiologist with Shawnee Mission Medical Center

Assessing cardiac risk at any age in life is important, but if you are among the thousands who have had a parent or sibling suffer from heart disease, a general assessment of your family’s health history is especially helpful.


That doesn’t mean you’re doomed to an early demise. Assessing your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) involves much more than just a look at your family history.


Read on to learn how impactful your genes are to your heart health and what, if anything, you can do about it. 


How strong is the genetic component to my heart health?


Women with heart attacks or CHD before age 65, and men before age 55, are considered to have “premature” CHD, which presents a significant risk factor to their offspring.


But it is important to note that aside from a rare inheritable cause of heart failure or rhythm abnormalities, a direct effect on cardiac health is actually quite unusual.


It is more likely that other associated risk factors, which we cardiologists call “traditional risk factors,” can actually make you more predisposed to heart attack.


These factors are the things most doctors look for during an assessment of your heart health. Some can be inherited, but some are products of your lifestyle and health status. Your risk is a complex blend of all three. 


What are the traditional risk factors


Nonmodifiable Risks (the ones you cannot control):

  • Your current age – women over age 65, men over age 55
  • Family history of premature heart disease
  • Your gender – males are naturally more predisposed than females

Modifiable Risks (the ones you can control):

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol)
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking


If none of the above applies to me, can I forget about it?


Not necessarily! Beware of the snowball effect your lifestyle can have on your heart health:


  • Obesity
  • Unhealthy eating
  • A sedentary lifestyle

May Lead To  →


  • Glucose intolerance
  • Sleep apnea
  • Higher levels of stress hormones

Which May Lead To →

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes

Which May Lead To →

  • INCREASED RISK OF CHD

What should I do if I meet the criteria for being at risk?


Never underestimate your risk! Fifty percent of all people are affected by CHD.


Although you can’t control your genetics, you can play a big part in lowering your risk.


Immediately:

  • Eat healthier
  • Engage in regular physical activity
  • Eliminate smoking

If you have a concern about your risk for coronary heart disease, contact your primary care provider for a cardiac workup. Diagnostic procedures include blood tests and imaging studies, such as calcium scoring tests.

 

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you have symptoms that may suggest a cardiac event, such as


  • Pain or discomfort in the chest
  • Discomfort or pain in the arm or shoulder
  • Jaw, neck or back pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Lightheadedness

For more about the information presented in this article, visit Shawnee Mission Cardiovascular Associates online or feel free to call at 913-632-9400. 


And don’t forget - your overall health is directly linked to a healthy heart, so it’s important to establish a relationship with a primary care doctor.


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