One of the most common questions that doctors ask their patients during routine physical exams is “Do you have a family history of heart disease?”
Physicians ask questions regarding genetic heart conditions for good reason – genes can play a big role in cardiovascular health.
What Cardiovascular Issues Are Hereditary?
There are many genetic heart conditions that can run in families including:
- High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Blood pressure that stays consistently above normal (120/80)
- Coronary Artery Disease: Plaque buildup over time (called Atherosclerosis) in the arteries that supply the heart with blood. This is the most common form of heart disease.
- Arrhythmia: Irregular heartbeat
- Congenital Heart Disease: Issues with the heart that present themselves at birth
- Cardiomyopathy: Disorders that affect the heart muscle
- High Cholesterol: Elevated levels of LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol
Genes control your cardiovascular system, so variations in them can be problematic for your heart. Certain cardiac genetic mutations may even increase your risk of sudden cardiac death.
What Can I Do?
There is a saying in the medical community: “Genes load the gun, environment pulls the trigger”. In other words, if you have a genetic heart condition, your lifestyle can negatively impact or “trigger” it. Luckily, the opposite is true as well. If you make better, heart-healthy choices, you can substantially minimize the risk of your predisposition.
Live A Healthier Lifestyle
Choosing to live a healthy lifestyle is important for everyone, but especially for those who are predisposed to genetic heart conditions. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that individuals lowered their risk by nearly half (46%) by having a healthy lifestyle.
Here are some tips on how you can start to live a healthier lifestyle:
And if you do… stop.
Did you know that smokers are up to 4 times more likely to have a sudden cardiac death than are non-smokers?
The stats around quitting smoking and heart health are equally as astounding. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, your body starts to recover as soon as you quit.
- Within 24 hours: Your chances of having a heart attack start to go down
- Within 5 years: Your risk of having a stroke will be nearly that of a non-smoker
- Within 10 years: Your risk of dying from lung cancer is cut in half
- Within 15 years: Your risk of heart disease will be similar to someone who never smoked at all
*Vaping was introduced as a “healthier” alternative to cigarettes, however, studies are beginning to show alarming facts. Check out our blog Vaping and Heart Health for more details.
60% of Canadians are overweight. The Heart and Stroke Foundation states that obese Canadians are 4 times more likely to have diabetes, more than 3 times as likely to have high blood pressure, and more than 2 times more likely to have heart disease than those with a healthy weight.
Regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, which comes with a range of heart health benefits, including reduced blood pressure and regulated cholesterol levels. Studies show that just 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day provides significant heart protection.
Make Healthy Food Choices
We are what we eat!
Experts believe that a more Mediterranean style of diet is the most beneficial for heart health. This means saying buh-bye to red meat and fried foods and hello to lots of fruits, vegetables, seeds, fish, etc.
*Try these Easy Fish Tacos with Lime Slaw for your next meal!
Even though family history can be a factor for your heart health, healthy lifestyle choices can help control your risk.
Don’t Skip Your Regular Check-ups
We should all be staying on top of our annual physicals, but if you are predisposed to genetic heart conditions, you definitely don’t want to skip them! Regular check-ups ensure you are up-to-date on your heart-related screenings, such as cholesterol and blood pressure.
Get Genetic Testing
If you are unsure of your genetic markers, you can get a genetic test done. A genetic test is a simple blood test, typically done at a genetic clinic or lab. If a diagnosis is made, doctors have the opportunity to set up a treatment plan early.
*If a close relative has tested positive for a heart condition, you should get tested.
Ask To Be Referred To A Cardiologist
If you have a family history of cardiovascular issues and want to proactively monitor your heart health closely, know that you are well within your right to ask your doctor for a referral to a cardiologist.
Knowing your family history and understanding your risk is crucial in protecting your heart long-term. If you are predisposed, it’s all about making choices that decrease the likelihood of triggering genetic heart conditions.
Fortunately, there are choices that you can make TODAY that will minimize your risk tomorrow, and the next day, and the next!