As the saying goes, you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. You can’t choose the genes you inherit from them, either.

Knowing your family’s health history can help you avoid both heart disease and stroke – the No. 1 and No. 5 causes of death in America. If you have a family history of heart disease, you have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, heart failure and stroke.

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“Both the risk of heart disease and risk factors for heart disease are strongly linked to family history,” said William Kraus, M.D., a preventive cardiologist and research scientist at Duke University “If you have a stroke in your family, you are more likely to have one.”

Family history can be as strong an indicator of heart disease as high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels. Even if you do everything possible to keep your heart healthy and strong, you still have to deal your genetics.

How much family history do you need to know?

The first step is to look at your close relatives: your father, mother, siblings and grandparents. You are considered to have a family history of cardiovascular disease if:
your father or brother was under the age of 55 when they were diagnosed with heart disease or your mother or sister was under the age of 65 when they were diagnosed with heart disease.

However, family history is more than your DNA. Your family’s shared lifestyle and home environment can also raise your risk. For example, growing up in a household with smokers or eating an unhealthy diet can influence your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Even where you live can be an indicator. If you were raised in an urban neighborhood, you may have been exposed to air pollution, poor water and chemicals like carbon monoxide—all of which can contribute to heart disease.

If you are at risk due to your family history, what can you do about it?

“You can’t counteract your genetics,” Dr. Kraus said. If you do have family members with heart disease history you must do what you can to change your environment. This means lowering your risk by changing behaviors that will increase your odds of getting heart disease or stroke. “It’s good, healthy living – the more that can be ingrained in your family, the more impact it has,” Dr. Kraus said. “A patient should encourage better eating habits, physical activity and eliminating smoking.”

Even if you have a family history, you can reduce your risk of getting heart disease by:

  • being physically active/regular exercise program
  • eating a heart-healthy diet
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • not smoking
  • managing high blood pressure
  • managing high cholesterol
  • controlling diabetes (if you have it)

Specific ways to detect your risk of heart disease

First of all, if you haven’t already done so, share your family history with your doctor. Then your doctor can evaluate your risks and advise you the best ways to combat your chances of future heart disease.

Some medical tests can help you get more accurate diagnosis. For instance, a blood test can look for certain biomarkers in the bloodstream, like elevated levels of lipoprotein, which is linked to heart disease risk and is primarily determined by your genetics. A coronary calcium scan can detect calcium in the walls of your arteries, which is an early sign of heart disease.

For more information about current heart disease research, a heart-healthy diet list etc. go to http://www.heart.org