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Heart Disease – It’s a Family Affair

Heart Disease – It’s a Family Affair

Your dad’s receding hairline or your mom’s curly hair aren’t the only things you can inherit from your parents. And if your grandfather has had a heart attack or your aunt has high cholesterol, genetics can play a big role in your health and how your body functions. Having a family history of heart disease can mean that you are at an increased risk for developing a heart condition yourself.

In general, if you have at least one male family member that has been diagnosed with heart disease or have had a heart condition before age 55 or one female family member before the age of 65, you may be at a higher risk of developing heart disease.

Here is what you need to know about the 3 most common inherited heart diseases and how you can reduce your risk of hereditary heart disease.

Familial Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy is one of the most common inherited heart conditions that can affect people of any age. This disease thickens part of the heart muscles and in extreme cases can cause sudden death.

Thickening of the interventricular septum- the wall that separates the left and right ventricles, prevents proper blood flow from the heart. This decreased blood flow forces the heart to pump harder and faster than it should. This thickening also takes up space in the left ventricle that would normally be used to hold blood which causes pressure to build up inside that heart chamber. This pressure causes shortness of breath and can lead to an increased risk of abnormal heart rhythms.

Symptoms of familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can include chest pain or heart palpitations but will vary among family members, with some experiencing no symptoms at all.

Familial Dilated Cardiomyopathy causes the heart muscles to become weak and thin and can affect both sides of the heart. The heart muscles become enlarged as they stretch, making blood pump less efficiently leading to heart failure.

Symptoms of familial dilated cardiomyopathy can cause irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, fatigue, fainting, and swelling in the legs and abdomen. Having no symptoms or those that go unnoticed and untreated can lead to heart failure and death.

Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a genetic disorder that causes very high levels of cholesterol in the blood. While many people suffer from high cholesterol, people with FH develop symptoms earlier in life and often can’t control their cholesterol levels through diet and exercise alone. Too much cholesterol, especially LDL- the bad cholesterol, narrows arteries and blocks blood flow. Familial hypercholesterolemia can cause a stroke or heart attack if left untreated. Those suffering with this type of heart disease will have a very high LDL (above 190 milligrams per deciliter). If one family member has FH, it’s important to have the rest of the family screened so they can begin treatment early if necessary.

Knowing your family history is critical in recognizing inherited conditions. Talk with your parents, grandparents and extended family members about their health histories and what types of medications they currently take. And remember that while we can’t control our genes, healthy habits and lifestyle also play a role in reducing your risk of heart disease. Talk with your doctor about your individual risks and the steps you can take to stay healthy.

Know the warning signs of a heart attack. This will help you be able to respond quickly if you notice any unusual symptoms.

Talk to your doctor about your family history and your individual health concerns. Your primary care physician can help you manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity and can also help you determine whether you need to see a cardiologist to run additional heart disease tests and screening given your own personal family history.