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Know your risk: Family history and heart disease 
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Know your risk: Family history and heart disease 

A family history of heart disease could mean you are at greater risk.

Key takeaways

  • If a member of your family has heart disease, you have a family history of heart disease 
  • A family history of heart disease can increase your chances of developing a heart condition  
  • Even if you have a family history, you can help lower your chances of developing heart disease by speaking to a doctor and adopting a healthy lifestyle
3 min read

What is a family history of heart disease?

When you have a family history of a disease, this means a member of your family has, or had that disease. 
Generally, if you have a family history of a heart condition, you may have a higher risk of developing a heart condition. 

What's the difference between family history and inherited conditions? 

Inherited conditions are caused by a fault (or mutation) in one or more of your genes. If one of your parents has a faulty gene, there's a chance you’ll inherit it. Some common inherited conditions are: 
 
  • Heart muscle diseases 
  • Life-threatening heart rhythms 
  • Very high cholesterol levels. 
Family history is more complex. Rather than just a single faulty gene, it could be a combination of shared genes and environments passed down from one generation to the next, which increases the risk of developing a disease. 

How do you know if you have a family history of heart disease? 

To work out if you have a family history of heart disease, you’ll need to look at two things: 
 
  1. Identify which member of your family had or has heart disease  
  2. Their age when they were first diagnosed. 
If one of your immediate family members, such as a parent or sibling, has had a heart attack, a stroke, or was diagnosed with heart disease before the age of 60, this may indicate a family history of premature heart disease. This means that your chances of developing the same condition may be higher than normal.  

How does a family history of heart disease increase your risk? 

A family history could increase your risk of developing heart disease in a number of ways.  
Inherited genes You could’ve inherited genes that cause heart disease. While there’s no single gene that causes heart disease, several genes can work together to increase your chances of developing it. Certain genes can pass on risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. 
Shared environments Shared environments can also be passed on to you from the previous generation in your family. You may have developed certain eating habits or lifestyle behaviours, such as preferences for certain types of food or a sedentary lifestyle. 

What can you do about it?  

Let your doctor know if you have a family history of heart disease. A Heart Health Check is recommended from the age of 45 (from 30 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples), but your doctor may want to assess your risk of developing heart disease earlier if you have a family history of heart disease.  

You may not be able to change your family history or genetics, but you can make positive changes to your lifestyle to lower your risk. Adopting the following healthy lifestyle habits can help lower your chances of developing heart disease: 

 

  • Be smoke free 
  • Do regular exercise  
  • Eat a heart healthy diet 
  • Maintain a healthy body weight 
  • Lower your alcohol intake 
  • Look after your mental health 
  • Manage high blood pressure and cholesterol 
  • Manage diabetes.  
 
If you have a family history of heart disease, visit your doctor to discuss your risk of developing heart disease. 
 
If you are 45 and over, make sure you see your doctor for regular Heart Health Checks, to keep an eye on your heart health and minimise your risk of developing heart disease. 
 

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