Does a Family History of Heart Disease Increase My Risk?

Published: Wednesday, January 12, 2022
Georgia Heart Institute

At some time or another, you’ve probably filled out an intake form at the doctor’s office that asked whether you had a family history of certain diseases. That raises a good point: If you have a family history of heart disease, does that mean you’ll get it too?

You might think there’d be a simple answer to that question, but there really isn’t. While a family history of heart disease can make it more likely that you’ll develop a heart health issue, it isn’t a certainty.

Many people with family members who have some form of heart disease never develop a heart health issue of their own. So, what’s the difference between those who do and those who don’t—and what’s the role of family history? Read on as we explore the topic.

Why Family History Matters

If you’ve ever read through a list of risk factors for any medical condition, odds are that family history was on the list. Having a family history of a disease is known to increase your risk of many health issues, particularly when an immediate family member is affected.

In some cases, health conditions have genetic factors, meaning that a likelihood of developing a condition can literally pass down through genes.

In other cases, a family history of certain medical issues is more closely related to environmental or behavioral factors. When you live with or around others, you’re exposed to the same environment (with factors such as pollution or exposure to chemicals) and you may also have similar lifestyle habits.

Knowing your family’s medical history and keeping a record of it can help you stay on top of your health. When you share with your medical provider that you have a family history of something like heart disease, he or she can guide you to make thoughtful decisions about how to protect your own health.

Family History & Heart Disease

What about a family history of heart disease specifically? When it comes to different forms of heart disease, your family’s medical history can increase your risk in multiple ways.

Having a family history of heart disease is considered a risk factor in and of itself, but your risk may also be higher for other family-specific reasons. What does that mean?

Well, having diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol also increases your risk of developing a heart health issue. And most of those health issues also run in families—you may, for example, have a family history of elevated cholesterol.

Other risk factors, such as smoking, drinking excessive alcohol, eating a diet high in saturated fat and sodium, and living a sedentary lifestyle can also be influenced by family. When you grow up in a household where these are common, you’re more likely to pick up those habits and carry them into adulthood, increasing your risk of heart disease.

So, what can you do to counteract a family history of heart disease and heart disease risk factors? First, talk with your doctor about your family medical history. He or she can advise about specific steps to help lower your risk and tests that may be recommended.

Second, do your part to decrease your risk by practicing healthy lifestyle habits. Move your body for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Eat a diet filled with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Minimize the amount of sodium and unhealthy fats in the foods you eat. Don’t smoke or quit smoking if you do smoke. Keep an eye on your alcohol intake.

All of these steps can help you minimize your risk, even with a family history of heart disease. Do your heart a favor!

Georgia Heart Institute Prevention Center

As the leading heart and vascular program that’s focused on heart health for generations, Georgia Heart Institute has created an innovative center focused solely on patient education, healthy lifestyle behaviors, advanced screening services and support resources – spanning all types and levels of heart disease.

The Prevention Center brings together expertise from non-invasive cardiology, culinary medicine, wellness coaching, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and more to deliver a holistic and comprehensive experience. This highly-trained team of preventative experts helps patients better understand their heart health, while also providing the expert guidance, advanced diagnostic testing and ongoing care needed to achieve and maintain long-term cardiac wellness.