February 26th, 2018

VIDEO | Family History and Heart Health

By Jessica L Waddell MSN, FNP
Nurse Practitioner

We all know eating healthy and exercising can go a long way toward our heart health, but we also must contend with factors we can’t control – our genetics.

While our family can pass on our eye color and cute dimples, they can also pass on traits that affect our health.

When it comes to heart health that includes:

Your Family Tree

It’s helpful to pass information about these diseases to your primary care provider. Knowing the health history of your parents and siblings is most important. If you know about your aunts, uncles and grandparents, that’s even better.

Finding out the age of the onset of the disease, particularly if it occurred when your relative was younger than normal for the condition, will also be important for your healthcare provider.

By knowing that, your provider can help you reduce risk factors for hypertension and cholesterol, as well as provide counseling on smoking cessation [https://www.sentara.com/healthwellness/community-health-programs/tobacco-cessation.aspx]. Your provider can offer suggestions and treatment options for weight management, if needed.

Certain screening tests can also give providers helpful information if they suspect cardiovascular disease.

Use this family tree from the American Heart Association to take notes on your family’s health history.

Just because you have a family history of a particular disease doesn’t necessarily mean you will have the same disease if you take good care of yourself. It just means a higher likelihood that you could get the disease.

Lifestyle Factors

The environment you grow up in also plays a significant role in your heart health, as much as your genetic traits.

Children tend to follow their parents’ health habits. If mom and dad are obese, there’s a higher likelihood their child will be obese. The same goes for smoking.

If a family consistently eats food that’s fried, processed, high in sugar and lacks a healthy amount of fruit and vegetables in their diets, children will also have a higher risk of conditions that lead to heart disease, such as high cholesterol and diabetes.

On the other hand, families who eat well-balanced meals and fill their pantries and fridges with healthy options will most likely have healthier kids. In addition, when kids witness parents working out and leading an active lifestyle, chances are, they will often follow their lead.

Know your family health history, but also realize there’s a lot you can do to overcome it.

Ms. Waddell earned her master of science in nursing degree from George Washington University. As a nurse practitioner, she uses her training and skills to provide high-quality managed care for acutely and critically ill cardiac patients. She is trained to conduct numerous medical procedures and provide a wide range of diagnostic and management services for patients with heart conditions including angina, arrhythmias, heart attack, heart disease, heart failure and hypertension. Her dedication to nursing care and emotional support help to create a more calming environment for patients and their families.