Check Your Heart: Doctors stress importance of knowing family heart disease history

More than 30 million people in the United States suffer from heart disease. There are so many factors that go into who gets heart disease, but many of them can be controlled. One that can’t be controlled is your family history.

Doctors stress it’s not just important to know your family history of heart disease, but to share that information with your doctor.

“The family history is extremely important and, in many ways, can trump any other problem that somebody has,” said UPMC cardiologist Michael Fallert. “If someone’s family history is quite strong, we really have to be aggressive many times at treating preventatively.”

Dr. Fallert added a significant family history is when a person gets heart disease around their mid-50s, not late in life. That covers all types of heart disease.

“The most common ones that we deal with are related to hypertension and hypertensive heart disease, which is extremely common and very widespread,” said Dr. Fallert.

That is your blood pressure. But Dr. Fallert added that other common heart problems include coronary artery disease or hardening of the arteries, congestive heart failure, and different heart rhythm problems.

All of these problems have similar risk factors.

“The most common ones are related to high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking obesity and dietary issues,” Dr. Fallert said.

Gender also plays a role. Women have some unique risk factors for heart disease, especially African American women.

Still, the lifestyle changes to control some risks are the same for everyone.

“Many patients’ blood pressures, will be very responsive to exercise, very responsive to diet to salt restriction, and also very responsive to weight loss,” said Dr. Fallert. “And, of course, cigarette smoking is — that’s a real easy conversation. As far as cardiologists are concerned, smoking is just the worst thing you can do when it comes to heart disease.”

Dr. Fallert emphasized not to wait until you have a problem or suspect you have a problem to get checked by your doctor. Do it now as a preventative measure.

“Everyone should be evaluated before they have symptoms. Everybody should really know what their blood pressure is, they should know what their cholesterol levels are, they should know where their weight stands in terms of risk, if they are smokers, they need to get help, and they need to know what their family history is,” Dr. Fallert said.

For more on heart screening or services in our area, visit UPMC’s Check Your Heart page.

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