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Family Tree an Essential Element of Heart Health

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February 4, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A glimpse into your family tree can provide clues to your past, and it can also provide insights into the health of your heart. It's American Heart Month, and while diet and exercise are important factors in cardiovascular disease, experts say genetics also plays a vital role.

A genetics counselor at the Ohio State University Medical Center, Amy Sturm, says some studies have found that almost half of cases involving coronary artery disease are not due to lifestyle. She lists some of the indicators that can be found in a family history.

"Do you have a close relative who had an early-age diagnosis? Having a large number of relatives with heart disease also could be an indicator. Female relatives affected at a younger age is one of the main red flags."

Sturm says women tend to get heart disease at an older age.

Genetics counselors at the Ohio State high-risk heart clinic can work with patients on family history and risk assessment, she says, to develop a personalized prevention and/or treatment plan for heart health. She points out that if people are aware of their family history, they can take preventative steps with the help of their doctors.

"There are things we can change. There are things we can work on - whether it be lifestyle, medication or some type of procedure or test or even screening - that can help you figure out if you have risk factors."

Sturm adds that genetics testing is also important because it will show if people do not have the risk factors that might be in their family history.

Ohio State is launching a personalized genetics study to determine the benefit of genetics counseling for patients with congestive heart failure and hypertension. The goal is to engage patients to become more actively involved in their own health care.

Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH