View Full Version : Does Family History contribute to higher risk of heart attack?

01-25-2012, 11:06 AM
Ask Dr. Arthur Agatston
Does Family History Put Me at Higher Risk of Heart Attack?

Q: My grandfather, one aunt, and two uncles on my mother's side all died of heart attacks. Am I at higher risk of having a heart attack because of my family history?

ó Iliana, North Carolina

http://images.agoramedia.com/everydayhealth/gcms/expert_arthur_agatston_sq.jpg A: Yes. Family history is an often underestimated and underreported risk factor for heart disease (http://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-disease/understanding/index.aspx) and heart attack, so Iím glad you asked this question. That said, I have numerous patients with bad family health histories (http://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/heart-health-and-family-history.aspx) who still have good hearts, and I have patients with good family histories who come to me with badly diseased hearts. The fact that they made an appointment to find out where they stood is a good thing.

The more distant a relative is and the older that person is when he or she had a heart attack, the less concerned you need to be. The more closely related you are to family members who have had heart attacks and the younger they were when the event occurred, the greater your risk is. First-degree relatives ó parents and siblings ó who die of a heart attack at a young age are of greater concern than grandparents, aunts, and uncles.

Furthermore, if one of your siblings has heart disease or has had a heart attack, that puts you at an even higher risk than if one of your parents has heart-related issues, because the sibling, besides having similar genes, has usually grown up in an environment similar to yours. Experts suggest that if you have a brother or sister with cardiovascular disease, your own risk is increased by as much as 100 percent.

Remember that the younger a close relative was when the heart attack occurred, the greater the concern is. I treated a woman recently with very high cholesterol (http://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/lowdown-on-cholesterol.aspx), and her sister had a heart attack at age 38, while another of my patients has a father who had a heart attack at 52. I take this information very seriously.

If a family history indicates potential problems and youíre only in your twenties, I would do a blood test for basic lipids (blood fats) and perhaps advanced blood tests to check the size of your cholesterol particles and levels of C-reactive protein (http://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/protein-homocysteine-and-hemoglobin-tests.aspx). If youíre older, I would also do imaging of your carotid arteries (the arteries that run just under the skin on each side of your neck and supply blood to your brain). If the carotid arteries show premature thickening of their lining (called the intimal-medial thickness), I would do a noninvasive CT [computed tomography] scan of your coronary arteries to get a calcium score (http://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/calcium-score.aspx), a measure of the total amount of plaque in your coronary arteries. In general, I do imaging for at-risk men beginning in their forties and at-risk women in their fifties, but will do so earlier in circumstances of particularly high-risk families.

As I noted above, having a family history of heart disease is not a guarantee of a heart attack. And even if you're diagnosed with heart disease, improving your diet, getting regular exercise (http://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-health/heart-friendly-exercise.aspx), and taking medications as necessary can go a long way toward reducing plaque buildup and improving your risk profile. The earlier that high-risk individuals are evaluated, the easier it is to prevent a heart attack.
Learn more in the Everyday Health Heart Health Center (http://www.everydayhealth.com/heart-disease/index.aspx).
Worried about your heart health? Find a cardiologist (http://www.everydayhealth.com/doctors/cardiologist-12?utm_source=it&utm_medium=il&utm_content=card&utm_campaign=hh) in your area.

Last Updated: 01/27/2010
Heart disease expert Arthur Agatston, MD, is a preventive cardiologist and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Besides being a researcher and lecturer, Dr. Agatston is well known as the author of the bestselling South Beach Diet (http://www.southbeachdiet.com/sbd/index.aspx). He maintains a cardiology practice and research foundation in Miami Beach.

Molon Labe
01-25-2012, 11:35 AM
My grandma had High blood pressure and died of a heart attack. My mom had one two years ago and has been obese most of her adult life. My sister is obese and on meds now. Fortunately, I'm not overweight and have maintained my weight, and I try to exercise regularly....but I still push the numbers that say I'm pre hyper tension. Could be my job or Type A personality....but yeah....I think it's hereditary.

01-25-2012, 01:14 PM
Both my grandmas and my paternal grandfather all died of strokes. My maternal grandmother had her first stroke in her late 80s. My paternal grandmother died in her mid-80s, and my paternal grandfather died young, in his 50s, because "he wouldn't take his blood pressure medication".

No one I know of has had a heart attack in my family. I had an uncle who died of kidney cancer and an aunt who died from diabetic complications. The uncle worked at the Rouge Plant, which has a record of cancer among it's employees.

01-26-2012, 12:12 AM
My father had one heart attack that ended it all, my mom had a stroke, my grandmother had a stroke, other grandmother had a heart attack, great uncles all stroked out, cousin had a stroke in his early 40's that killed him, other cousin (his brother) had a heart attack. I'm trying to relax from my type A ways.

But SR is usually low key, no one in his family has died from heart attack or stroke (cancer generally took them out), so his stroke truly came from out of the blue. There was no family history at all.

I take as many precautions as I can to avoid the "big one". I guess when it all sorts out, we truly cannot control everything. We can just do our best to avoid what we know could be in our future.