While we always encourage our patients to take care of their health in order to prevent heart disease, there are genetic factors that increase the risk of heart disease which none of us can control. During your first office visit we will want to know more about your family member’s health history including your parents, grandparents, and siblings. If your close relatives have experienced heart disease or stroke, your risk factor for heart disease and stroke increases. A large study from Framingham Massachusetts found that among men, their 8 year risk of cardiovascular disease doubled if a parent had cardiovascular disease. Among women, the risk increased by 70%. In addition to immediate family history, statistical evidence suggests that African-Americans are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure or having a stroke than other populations. Hispanics also have higher incidences of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
In addition to family history and broader demographic genetic risk factors, familial hypercholesterolemia is a common inherited disease that affects one out of five hundred Americans. Through no fault of diet or environment, familial hypercholesterolemia causes increased levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) beginning at birth.
While we cannot yet modify your DNA or completely remove the genetic risk of developing heart disease, we can help you take vital steps to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease through lifestyle change and medication, if necessary. In the setting of a significant family history of heart disease, it is especially important that modifiable risk factors be addressed. These factors include elevated cholesterol, elevated sugar (diabetes), smoking, being overweight, sedentary lifestyle, eating an unhealthy diet, poor stress management, and having certain sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.
At NYMA, we see many patients who seek our expertise in managing patients with strong family histories of cardiovascular disease. We utilize state of the art diagnostic tools to help define risk level and work as a team with nutritionists, exercise professionals, behaviorists, and complementary medicine professionals to help reduce these patients’ own risk of heart disease.