Does Heart Disease Run in the Family?

“Even if you do believe that you’re destined to die at 70 of heart disease — because your parents did — what do you want life to look like until then?” Greg Weglowski

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Cardiovascular diseases are the major cause of death, being responsible for an estimated 31% of all deaths worldwide. What is even more shocking is that people usually don’t pay attention to the symptoms the way they would in case of cold or flu because the heart doesn’t sneeze and cough. A stroke or heart attack comes unexpectedly with a well-adjusted mechanism that has worked for years and years without any failures suddenly going off the rails. The most common reason for the heart to malfunction is that in modern life the cardiovascular system is highly stressed. However, whether cardiovascular diseases affect all people equally remains a question.

How Do Genes Influence Our Lives?

Numerous studies have shown that approximately 40% of the risk for cardiovascular disease lies in hereditary factors. Among about 30 thousand genes in our organism, there are those that are responsible for such triggers of heart diseases as high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, diabetes and propensity for obesity. Genes provide instructions for cells to make certain proteins that carry out physiological functions and form physical characteristics. Just like eye color, a predisposition to certain diseases can be passed on.

What Is the Best Age to Start Monitoring Your Heart Health?

First of all, find out if your brothers, sisters, parents or grandparents have had heart disease or stroke, and how old they were when it was diagnosed. If they were younger than 50-55 years old, it is important to monitor yours and your children’s heart health from an early age. For example, if there is a family history of sudden unexplained death, arrhythmia or cardiomyopathy, all first-degree relatives of any age should see a cardiologist for an echocardiogram and a genetic counselor to determine whether genetic testing is needed. Regular cardiovascular screening should begin at the age 20, with follow-ups depending on your level of risk.

What About Kids?

Knowing their family health history can help your children avoid heart disease and stroke by being aware of the symptoms and lifestyle specifics. On the other hand, kids don’t have so much interest in health and they learn by looking at their parents’ behavior. So whether or not there is a history of heart disease in the family, getting active is important for parents. Breaking the habit of inactivity is hard once it has been established, but by being physically active, having fun and doing sports together you can cultivate the right lifestyle in your children.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Since children like spending time with friends and learning new skills, you should also look for opportunities beyond your own interests. Another way to mitigate the impact of bad genes is to eat a healthy diet. Teaching children about healthy eating will pay off in spades. But don’t use food as a reward and don’t make your kids finish everything on their plates as those habits can set them up for obesity.

Why Should You Stay Optimistic?

After finding out about their family medical history, many people become pessimistic and resort to watching their lives go by in passive disinterest. “But even if you do believe that you’re destined to die at 70 of heart disease — because your parents did — what do you want life to look like until then?” says Greg Weglowski, a runner with a remarkable family history of heart diseases. He was a keen marathoner, skydiver and led a very active life when in his 40s he suddenly had a heart attack. Remembering the day he felt shortness of breath and pain in his arm, he says that not only had he not been eating healthy for some time before that, but also paid little attention to the symptoms until he had his regular screening test. Fortunately, he was perceptive enough to take this as a warning and to start eating healthy, exercising and reducing stress. Seven years have passed since the heart attack and he remains as active as ever and teaches his 3 sons to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Do All Family Members Inherit Cardiovascular Diseases?

Many types of heart diseases can be inherited. Some conditions like high blood pressure or coronary artery disease run in families, but most likely result from multiple genes working together in a complex way to cause the disease. So even if you have a strong family history, you are not guaranteed to have inherited the combination of genes that lead to cardiovascular diseases. But even if you did, stay calm and don’t give up. Start making the most of your life: be active, eat healthy, give up smoking and drinking alcohol. Healthier choices not only prolong life, but also help you to live the most vibrant life you can with the people you love.

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