Genetics and Heart Disease
Edward Perlstein, MD, is board certified in Cardiovascular Medicine, Interventional Cardiology and Internal Medicine, and practices at Banner Heart Hospital. He can be reached at 480-835-6100.
Question. My father died of complications from heart disease. Are my siblings and I at risk?
Answer. Having a family history of heart disease is certainly a risk factor.
However, that isn't the only factor to consider. There are many things in addition to family history that can put a person at higher risk of developing heart disease:
- Gender -- Men develop heart disease at an earlier age than women, but women are just as likely to die of heart disease.
- Age -- For both men and women, the likelihood of heart disease increases significantly after the age of 65. The risk rises sharply in women after menopause.
- High blood pressure
- Abnormal cholesterol levels -- high blood levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol or low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol
- Sedentary lifestyle
A tendency toward heart disease or fatty buildups in arteries seems to be hereditary. That means children of parents with heart and blood vessel diseases may be more likely to develop them. A number of genes have been reported to be associated with heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure in large population-based studies. But, how such genes impact an individual person is not nearly as understood.
Even though you can't change your genetic makeup, you can reduce your risk by adopting a healthier lifestyle that includes physical activity, a healthy diet, and avoiding tobacco. Some types of heart disease, closely linked to diet and lifestyle choices, are preventable; others are due to genetic inheritance, infections, or other uncontrollable factors.
The statistics of heart disease are alarming: One out of every three Americans will ultimately die of heart disease. The daily toll is approximately 2,500 people. Fortunately, the death rate is declining steadily (by about 40 percent since 1960), thanks in part to better medical care and widespread public education about risk factors. Be sure to consult with your doctor about any health concerns you have, and before you begin any diet or exercise regimen.