Assessing Your Risk of Heart Disease-The Role of Family History

By Tim L. Hill 

NOTE: This article was originally published in Decisive Magazine. Reprinted with permission.

A number of choices we make each day have a large impact on our general well-being. For example, we must decide what and how much to eat, how we are going to fit exercise into our busy schedules, whether to drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes – the list goes on and on. These decisions enable us to take control of our own health, but what about other uncontrollable factors that affect overall wellness, such as age, sex, family medical history or ethnicity?

According to the American Heart Association, your family history plays an important role in assessing your heart disease risk or your chance of suffering from a heart attack. Your risk of heart disease increases if your father, brother or other close male relative were diagnosed with heart disease at an age younger than 55 years. It also increases if your mother, sister or other close female relative were diagnosed with heart disease at an age younger than 65 years.

Other risk factors for heart disease include:

  • Being a male greater than 45 years or a female greater than 55 years
  • Cigarette smoking
  • High total cholesterol
  • Low good cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Excessive alcohol use

The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk.

What does this mean for you? 

If you have a close relative with heart disease, you should ask your doctor to calculate your heart disease risk. There are several ways to do this, including a comprehensive score called the Framingham risk score. Calculation of your risk will tell you if you have a low, moderate or high risk of developing heart disease in the next ten years.

How can you decrease your risk of heart disease? 

There are a number of easy steps you can take to decrease your risk of heart disease. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. And if you smoke cigarettes - quit as soon as you can. Make wise choices when it comes to portion sizes and exercise regularly. If you are at high risk for heart disease, you may also need to take preventive medications. Most of all you should keep careful track of the following measurements and control them if necessary under a doctor’s supervision: weight, waist circumference, blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol (lipid) levels (total cholesterol, bad cholesterol or low density lipoprotein), good cholesterol or high-density lipoprotein (HDL ) and triglycerides) and blood sugar levels.   You can even use these measurements to calculate your own risk.

If you do not have a regular doctor, try to obtain the above values at a local free clinic, community health center or a community health fair and calculate your risk at the following websites:

What's Your Risk?

Use our assessment tool to find out if you're at risk for developing heart disease.

Assess your risk now

Who's at Risk?

Certain populations are at a greater risk for heart disease.

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