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A History of Heart Disease: July 24, 2012

Every 35 seconds an American dies from heart disease. Many are young people and otherwise healthy. Turns out one of the biggest risk factors is something you can’t change, but should be aware of. It could save your life.

By most measures, Brion Darby is a healthy guy.

“We eat a lot of fish, we eat a lot of vegetables, we have a vegetable garden,” says Darby.

He exercises, doesn’t smoke, doesn’t have high blood pressure. So at 35, a heart attack was the furthest thing from his mind, even when he started getting chest pains.

“It was kind of weird because it happened for, like three days. It was like a pressure in my collarbone.  And I thought it was maybe a congestion or something in my chest.  And the third night, I couldn’t sleep,” says Darby.

He went to the hospital and found he was in cardiac arrest.  Two of his arteries were almost completely blocked.

“One was 90 percent and the other one was 75 percent,” says Darby.

“We do see it in men who are young, athletic, they all feel they are invincible; nothing is going to touch them until something terribly goes wrong,” says Dr. Murali Muppala, a cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Darby thought he knew the heart attack risk factors. But he missed one – a big one.

“Number 1 - family history.  There is a very high risk factor for someone to have premature heart attacks.  If someone has a heart attack in the family in their 40s and 50s, beware,” says Dr. Muppala.

Darby’s dad had a heart attack at 38. He chalked it up to a stress and bad habits. His grandmother and her father had them, too. That piece of family history wasn’t handed down.

“So it doesn’t really register, like, oh well that must be in our blood,” says Darby.

If your family has a history of heart attacks or stroke, you’re twice as likely to have one yourself. That one factor exacerbates all the others, including hypertension, diabetes and smoking.

“All these things need to be controlled aggressively if you have a strong family history. It’s one of the strongest indicators for someone to have premature heart attacks,” says Dr. Muppala.

It’s been a month and Darby has two heart stents keeping his arteries open, along with a better appreciation for his family tree.

“If you have some sort of genetic disposition you’re going to take every precaution that you can,” says Darby.