Heart Risk Growing in your Family Tree: May 9, 2013

We all have a history, but something in Frank Messina’s past threatened to affect his future.

“I have a family history. My father and my mother had heart conditions,” says Messina.

Studies show an underestimation of the impact of family history on heart risk. Most doctors discuss it, but may not probe deep enough.

“It’s one of the strongest indicators for someone to have premature heart attacks,” says Dr. Murali Muppala, cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

Currently some risk measurement tools only cover whether a family member has heart problems, without specifically asking if a parent had a heart attack and at what age. The information could potentially put them in a higher risk category.

“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. Make sure you are following all the guidelines,” says Dr. Muppala.

A family history of heart attack puts more emphasis on the other cardiac risk factors. It is the one element we can’t control, making it more important to address things that are within our power.

“Make sure your risk factors are identified; make sure your risk factors are under good control.  They include hypertensions, diabetes, smoking. And all these things need to be controlled aggressively, if you have a strong family history,” says Dr. Muppala.

Evaluating standard questionnaires, put about 13% of people studied at high risk, while looking at an enhanced history put 20% people in that category.  Without understanding his true risk, Frank almost carried on a family tradition.

“I never drank, never smoked and I started to get chest pains. They rushed me to the hospital. I couldn’t figure out why I would have this heart attack, and I think it’s the family history,” says Messina.

Sharing all the facts with your doctor could prevent you from repeating the past.