How Does Family History Relate to CVD?
Your family history of cardiovascular disease is a strong indicator of your personal risk. A positive family history involving first-degree relatives is generally associated with a twofold increase in the risk for CVD.
Family history of CVD is the result of both genetic and behavioural factors. Adopting healthy lifestyle behaviours early on is key to reducing your overall CVD risk.
The Influence of Your Genes
Often referred to as your “genetics,” family history is the health information about you and your blood relatives. Family history is important in determining your risk for CVD because you and your blood relatives share the same genes. If a close family member — a parent, brother, or sister — developed heart disease before age 55 or, in the case of female relatives, before menopause, this indicates you may be at greater risk of developing CVD.
Your family history can influence your risk for heart disease in many ways. Genes control every aspect of the cardiovascular system, from the strength of the blood vessels to the way cells in the heart communicate. For many common conditions, such as coronary artery disease, stroke, atrial fibrillation, and diabetes, there are many risk factors — genetic, lifestyle, and environmental — that increase a person’s risk of developing the disease.
Genetic tests do not currently exist to measure individual risk for most cardiovascular diseases because the specific genetic factors are not yet fully understood. This makes family history, along with information about lifestyle choices and environment, one of the most important tools doctors have for assessing individual risk.