Your Doctor Can Help You Control Heart Disease Risk Despite Your Genetics

Janet Tiberian Author
By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
January 18, 2019
What Should I Do If Heart Disease Runs in My Family

Exercising, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, managing weight, controlling stress and avoiding tobacco can help prevent heart attacks and strokes. But sometimes genetics trump even the healthiest of lifestyles. You can do everything right and still be diagnosed with coronary artery disease a condition that significantly raises your risk for it, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes.

Coronary artery disease is the most common cardiovascular disease and claims close to 400,000 lives each year. It develops after years of damage to the coronary arteries -- primary blood vessels responsible for transporting blood (along with oxygen and nutrients) to the heart, raising your risk for a heart attack. It can also impede the delivery of blood to the brain and lead to a stroke.

Atherosclerosis – an accumulation of cholesterol plaques along the inner lining of the arteries -- and low-grade inflammation are the most common causes of arterial damage. Atherosclerosis narrows and weakens blood vessels. Low-grade inflammation isn’t fully understood, but experts associate it with an overactive immune system, and it can cause the cholesterol plaques to erupt. When this happens, your body forms a clot over the wounded blood vessel, and the clot can interfere, sometimes even stop, blood flow to the heart or brain.   

Genetic Factors of Heart Disease

Just like height, hair color and facial features, your risk for heart diseases can be passed down from your parents. Sometimes, only one or two genetic variances is needed to cause the problem, as in the case of familial high cholesterol. But most often, multiple genetic changes are involved in CAD and its associated conditions. Sixty-seven DNA variances that increase heart attack risk have been identified, according to Harvard Heart Letter. Each variance raises the risk for a heart attack by 10 percent; the more variances you have, the higher the risk for developing cardiovascular disease. 

How to Minimize Risks for Genetic Heart Disease

Should you get a DNA test for heart disease? Probably not. Even if you have a high genetic probability of developing cardiovascular disease, interventions for genetic CAD variations don’t exist yet. If CAD runs in your family, your best defense is to work with your primary care doctor to keep updated on early-detection cardiovascular screenings and help control the factors that raise your risk for coronary artery disease.

“This is why it’s so important to remain up-to-date with your heart-health screenings ,” says Bernard Kaminetsky, MD, medical director, MDVIP. “Getting a read on your cholesterol particle size, blood pressure and inflammation levels, as well as other risk factors that can further increase the chances you’ll develop CAD.”

Don’t skip your exercise, weight management or smoking cessation programs just because you’re at higher genetic risk for CAD. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a healthy lifestyle substantially lowered the risk of CAD within each genetic risk category. Just make sure you work with your doctor before changing your diet or beginning an exercise program.

“Hopefully, your doctor has the time to sit down with you and create a heart-healthy lifestyle plan that includes tactics to help you control weight, insulin resistance and inflammation,” says Kaminetsky, MD.  

If you don’t have a primary care physician, consider partnering with an MDVIP-affiliated physician. They have time to really work with you and develop a wellness plan that can help you prevent coronary artery disease. Find a physician near you and begin your partnership in health » 

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About the Author
Janet Tiberian Author
Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES

Janet Tiberian is MDVIP's health educator. She has more than 25 years experience in chronic disease prevention and therapeutic exercise.

View All Posts By Janet Tiberian, MA, MPH, CHES
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