Big Changes Happening on August 7, 2019.

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Know your family history to assess heart health

Do heart disease or cardiovascular risk factors run in your family? The answer may not be as simple as you think. The more you know about your family history for heart health, the more you can do to lower your risk and possibly lengthen your life.

“Knowing your family history and discussing your individual risk profile with your physician is an important step in taking care of yourself, and it’s never too early to get started,” said Dr. Abdelkader Almanfi, director of the Structural Heart Program with ThedaCare Cardiovascular Care. “Don’t let your family history scare you or make your feel like there’s nothing you can do. Remember, family history is just one risk factor, and most other risk factors are controllable.”

Almanfi recommends first looking to your biological parents and siblings. The most important indicator is whether any of them had or died from a heart attack or stroke, particularly at a young age. If one or more has cardiovascular risk factors, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, this can be a sign that you may be at an increased risk for developing those as well.

Also, find out as much as you can about the health history of your other relatives, especially grandparents. But keep in mind that they may have had lifestyle or environmental risk factors that you don’t have. For instance, tobacco use was much more common decades ago, and so were diets full of fried foods or red meats. Poverty and other conditions may have played a part in their choices and health.

It’s a good idea to keep a written record of major health events in your family’s history. Share it with your doctor and other health care providers. They can help you evaluate your true individual risk and create a healthy living plan, including eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. They can also help you find ways to work physical activity into your daily life.

“You will always be the most important member of your health care team,” said Almanfi. “You may have lost close family members to heart disease, but their story doesn’t have to be your story. You can write your own by making healthy lifestyle choices and staying on top of any health problems.”