The Connection Between Family Health History and Heart Disease

Carlo Castillo
Carlo Castillo

Carlo is a Professional Health and Education Writer. He has built a career creating educational articles for both patients and healthcare professionals.

Family health history is one of the key contributing factors that affect a person’s overall health. It heightens the potential risk of developing different health conditions such as heart disease. The link between family history and heart disease should never be underestimated and recent studies have shown a clear connection that everyone should be aware of. 

Family History vs. Inherited Conditions

It is essential to know the difference between inherited conditions and family history. 

Inherited conditions are brought by a fault in your genes. This may be one or more. If either of your parents actually has a faulty gene, there is a possibility that you will inherit it. Some of the typical inherited conditions are:


Family history showcases a more complex scenario. Rather than only one faulty gene, this could be a mixture of shared genes as well as environments that were passed down from different generations. This heightens the risk of acquiring or developing a disease.

Inherited Genes

There is no single gene that can cause heart disease but multiple genes can contribute to heighten the chances of developing it. Several risk factors such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure can be passed on by certain genes.

Shared Environments

These shared environments also play a role as they can be passed from an older generation down to the younger generation of the family. Specific lifestyle and eating habits along with food preferences may be hugely influenced by a family setting.

Discovering the Connection

According to Dr. William Kraus, a research scientist and preventive cardiologist at Duke University, the risk factors of heart disease are closely linked to family history. Also an AHA or American Heart Association volunteer, Dr. Kraus emphasized the importance of sharing family history with your healthcare provider and should be done immediately. 

If you are having a hard time tracing the full history, it is recommended that you start with your own immediate family. Gather information and inquire whether your parents, grandparents, brothers, or sisters had a stroke or heart disease. It is also important to know when these diseases appeared or developed. It would be smart to take advanced measures by learning about the comprehensive ACLS algorithms to be prepared in critical emergency situations.

Dr. Kraus has claimed that your family history offers a picture of the genetics and the environment in place during the time these diseases occurred. Simply put, Dr. Kraus said that genetics cannot be counteracted. He also stated the need to change your environment if a family history of heart disease has been confirmed.

Family History Importance

Acquiring data about family history is deemed to be a core component of the initial clinical assessment in heart failure (HF) patients. In a lot of medical encounters, family history has been an effective and consistent risk assessment tool. This has been considered essential even upon assessment of complex diseases. Family history provides information, not just about a person’s heritable risk but as well as the shared environmental influences like lifestyle, diet, and other behaviors. 

The ACC/AHA or American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association recommended that heart failure be considered as a progressive condition having four (A-D) stages. 

Recommended Stages by the ACC/AHA:

Stage A

People considered at this stage are those with cardiovascular risk factors like diabetes, hypertension, or obesity but do not have cardiac structural changes or symptoms.  

Stage B

People with cardiac structural changes but remain asymptomatic are considered to be at this stage. Samples of changes are left ventricular hypertrophy or remodeling.

Stage C

Patients who have overt symptoms of heart failure are considered to be at this stage.

Stage D

When overt symptoms progress to end-stage or terminal, this is considered to be stage D. 

The Framingham Heart Study

Multiple studies have showcased how family history has contributed to cardiovascular risk conditions. One of the most well-known is the Framingham Heart Study (FHS). The FHS was started in 1948. Researchers recruited 5,209 people between 30 to 62 years old from Framingham, Massachusetts. This was initially for the first round of lifestyle interviews and extensive physical examinations that would be later analyzed for typical patterns that are linked to heart disease development. From then on, the participants have continued returning to the study almost every two to six years. This allows the researchers to acquire detailed medical history and also get laboratory tests and physical exams done.

By 1971, the second generation was included in the study. There were 5,124 second-generation participants that included the original participants’ spouses and adult children. They were also tasked to undergo the same examinations. 

In 2002, the third generation of participants was enrolled in the study. They were the grandchildren of the original participants. 

The Framingham Heart Study learned that parental cardiovascular disease was linked with a heightened risk of future heart events in middle-aged offspring. Sibling cardiovascular disease presents a heightened risk for future heart events even beyond established risk factors and parental disease. Another study that is close to the FHS is The ARIC or Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study and it involved 15792 adults and showcased that family risk score was predictive of incident type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

Other Studies Linking Family History and Heart Disease

Analysis of the NHANES Survey 2007-2014

A study was made using the NHANES 2007-2014 survey and focused on measuring the connection of self-reported FHPHD or family history of premature heart disease with cardiovascular disease. This also examined the association between FHPHD and cardiovascular health metrics.

According to the study, the prevalence of heart disease for people with FHPHD was more than twice for those without a family health history (6.25%; 95% CI, 5.82–6.69). 

Coronary Artery Disease

When talking about heart disease, coronary artery disease is the one usually being referred to. It is considered the most common heart disease type that causes a yearly death toll of 370,000. Coronary artery disease starts when plaque begins to build upon the arteries’ walls. When these arteries turn narrower, blood gets harder to sneak through. This usually leads to a stroke or a heart attack. Having a family member with coronary artery disease has been very common but you don’t have to panic. It is still worth noting though. 

According to cardiologist Dr. Christine Jellis, you are at an increased risk when you have a sibling or a parent with a history of heart disease even before turning 65 for females and 55 for males. If you have that family member who fits the profile, Dr. Jellis recommends that you see a cardiologist as soon as you can. A cardiologist can help in weighing all of the risk factors and come up with a plan to bring the risk down.

Fight Heart Disease Despite Family History

Yes, family history serves as a big factor but you control your fate. Heredity is only one of the considerations but there are other risk factors that you can control. Family history cannot be changed but you can act against the other factors. Below are the best things to do to get your heart protected.

Stop or Avoid Smoking

Tobacco is just not good for the body. If you smoke, vape, or even chew tobacco, stop it right now as this will only heighten the risk for heart disease.

Eat the Right Foods

Dr. Jellis suggests taking a diet that is centered on vegetables, fruits, grains, olive oil, and nuts. Poultry and fish are also good but it is advised to go easy on dairy products, sugary treats, processed meat, and red meat. Eating the right foods to fight heart disease can be highly beneficial in the long run.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise plays a key role in keeping the heart healthy. A minimum of 30 minutes of aerobic activity for five days each week could be helpful enough. It is advised to focus on an activity that you will truly enjoy so that you will have added motivation while keeping your body fit and healthy.

Lose Weight

If your family health history puts you at risk of a stroke or a heart attack, you should use this as your drive to drop the pounds. It may be difficult when you think about it but with added motivation for a longer life then this is not impossible. 

Keep Vitals in Check

You can manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Implementing the right lifestyle changes and getting regular medication can help you control these vitals. It only needs the right drive and motivation to make the important changes right here and right now.

Limit Alcohol Intake 

Moderate consumption of alcohol is highly recommended to keep the heart safe. Moderate can be considered as one drink per day for women and two for men. A single drink could be 12 ounces of beer or five ounces of wine. 

In conclusion, you must never blame your parents or your family in general for the potential risk of heart disease. The best thing to do is to protect and strengthen your cardiovascular system by implementing the best healthy lifestyle habits. Consider the risk as motivation to improve and achieve optimal health.