All in the Family

The link between family history and heart disease

When discussing heart disease, “family history” falls at the top of the list of risk factors. But what does that mean? Should you be more concerned if your mother, a smoker, died of a heart attack at age 57, or if three of your grandparents had high cholesterol and hypertension, but died in their 80s and 90s? How deep should you delve into your family history and when should you get concerned?

You’ll want to start by examining your parents and siblings first, followed by your grandparents and then aunts and uncles. Important to note is:

  • The total number of family members with heart disease — the higher the number, the higher your risk.
  • How closely related are your family members with heart disease. Your risk increases if parents and siblings have heart disease, or have had heart attacks and/or strokes.
  • Their age when they had a heart attack or stroke. Heart attacks under age 55 for men and 65 for women are considered early—if your parent or sibling had a cardiac event at a young age, you may be at increased risk.

Also keep in mind the lifestyle of first-degree relatives who had a heart attack or stroke. If they lived a healthy lifestyle, smoke-free, ate well and exercised – and still had an incident at a younger age, you should be more concerned.

If you do have a strong family history of heart disease, you can take certain steps to maintain your heart health, including:

  • Know your numbers—make annual checks of your cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure routine.
  • Inform your doctors of your family background so they can monitor your heart health.
  • And of course: eat healthy, exercise, and, if you smoke, quit!

Learning your family history can be daunting, but arming yourself with that knowledge can help you reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Join Dr. Coady live at Lankenau’s next Wednesday Web Chat, July 10 at 7 p.m.: Heart Health & Your Family History. Dr. Coady will also respond to your questions about the TAVR procedure as an alternative to open surgery for treating aortic stenosis. Sign up now (link to

Stay Heart Smart. Ask your Heart Health questions via Lankenau’s Facebook page for your chance to win a Whole Foods gift card (link to