On any given medical history form, you will likely be asked to answer questions about your family’s medical history. These questions may seem unnecessary, however family history actually plays a strong role in the future of your health.
Not so long ago, it was believed that heart disease was predetermined based on genetics. This belief turned out to be dangerous despite being largely true. People with a family history of heart attacks and strokes thought they were doomed to suffer the same. Because of this morbid belief, many people didn’t bother to watch what they ate, or follow any of the suggestions for cardiovascular health. This belief also caused people on the other side to feel a sense of invincibility when it came to heart disease. Just as those who had a history of heart disease believed it would inevitably happen to them, people with no history of heart disease believed it couldn’t possibly happen to them. This led them to much the same lack of personal responsibility for the health of their heart. Both groups of people suffered from the belief that genetics alone determined whether or not someone would develop heart disease. The truth is, no one is immune from a heart attack.
While lifestyle certainly plays a role in determining your risk for a heart attack, genetics cannot be pushed aside completely. Ideally, you should be aware of your family’s health history without being convinced by it. In determining genetic risk factor for heart disease, you should always start with your immediate family. This means knowing if your brothers, sisters, mother and father have ever had any history of heart problems. Once you’ve ascertained this information, try to do the same for your grandparents, and any aunts or uncles.
Heart problems can mean any number of conditions, some more telling than others. Your brother’s heart murmur, for instance, is of less import than if your mother died from a stroke. Recognizing these distinctions is an important part of understanding your family’s heart history, and thereby assessing your own risk for heart disease.
Once you’ve started to question your history, you may find that your family does not have a history of heart problems. While this is good news, it is important not to think of it as a get out of jail free card. A family history free of heart disease may be a good thing, but it does not mean you are immune. Part of the risk factor of heart disease is genetic, yes, but the other part is your environment. Even if your family has never had heart problems, it is important to take steps to ensure your heart health.
If, however, you discover that you do have a history of heart disease in your family, don’t panic. This does not mean you will inevitably develop heart disease or suffer a heart attack. It does, however, mean you need to be extra diligent in ensuring the best cardiovascular health possible. Focus on the things you can change, rather than what you can’t. Genetics are not something you can change or prevent. However you can choose to eat a healthy, balanced diet. You can choose to exercise regularly and refrain from smoking cigarettes. The life you lead has just as much of an impact on your risk for heart attacks as do your genes.