2017-02-01 / OnCall

When Heart Disease Is a Family Affair

Alexander Szymanski, MD

Q: If cardiovascular (heart) disease runs in your family, at what age should you begin paying attention to heart health and what tests should you have done regularly?

A: The risk of having a heart attack increases when a first-degree relative (parent or sibling) has had a heart attack or stroke. This is mainly seen when the relative has had a heart attack before the age of 55 if they are male or 65 if they are female. The key to preventing cardiovascular disease is managing your risk factors, such as smoking, high blood pressure, high total cholesterol or high blood glucose (sugar).

While family health history cannot be changed, it does suggest the need to improve additional risk factors. The best way to determine your personal risk factors is through screening tests during regular doctor visits. The frequency of follow-ups will depend on your determined level of risk. Most regular cardiovascular screening tests should begin at age 20.

Key screening tests recommended for optimal heart health include:
• Blood pressure
• Cholesterol
• Body weight
• Blood glucose
• Smoking, physical activity and diet

Few of us have ideal risk levels on all screening tests. However, if you do have test results that are less than ideal, it doesn’t mean you’re destined to develop a serious cardiovascular disease. On the contrary, it means you’re in position to begin changing your health in a positive way.

Alexander Szymanski, MD
Mount Nittany Physician Group

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