Family History and Your Heart

Coronary heart disease is the result of plaque buildup in the arteries, which blocks blood flow and heightens the risk for heart attack and stroke. It accounts for 1 in 6 deaths in the United States.
Currently, the Framingham Risk Score is the most widely used method for measuring heart risk. It takes into account general information, such as blood pressure, cholesterol level and basic knowledge about whether a family member had a history of heart disease. Based on the results, a decision is made as to who may be at high risk.
However, a recent article in the Wall Street Journal reports that a new study shows that detailed family information could help doctors better predict who is at high risk for heart disease. Dr. Donna Arnett, a genetic epidemiologist and president-elect of the American Heart Association, says that, “Family history remains one of the most important predictors of an event for an individual. But most of the family history that we’re collecting is just the presence or the absence of heart disease, not the age of onset or the type of disease.”
Another risk-measurement tool, the Reynolds Risk Score, does consider if a patient’s parent had a heart attack and at what age. This tool has been available since 2007 but is not yet widely used. Gathering the additional information does take more time and often, the patient is not aware of his family health history.
So the next time you are at a family gathering, ask some questions about the health histories of your parents, grandparents and siblings. Find out if they had heart disease, a heart attack and at what age. The more information you have, the easier it will be for your doctor to make a diagnosis. It could save your life!

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