6 Reasons for Heart Attack: But What About Family History?

Heart disease remains a #1 killer, despite the fact that it is preventable. What are the reasons for a heart attack & what role does family history play?

Almost everyone is aware that, if someone in his or her immediate family (brother, sister, mom, dad) has had a heart attack, they are at an increased risk of having a heart attack.  This risk is even greater if that family member had a heart attack before reaching 55 years of age.  50 seems to be a somewhat magical number because research has already shown that, if you have no signs of heart disease by age 50, your risk of dying of cardiovascular causes is much, much lower.

Anyone who has had conversations with me about family history of just about any disease knows that I do not believe strongly in family history over lifestyle.  Think about it–children are raised with many of the same habits that their parents had.  Dietary, exercise, stress, environmental chemical use.  If you put the same lifestyle on top of a similar genetic makeup, of course you’re going to get a similar outcome!  My contention is that the genetic makeup is heavily modifiable based on what we do to ourselves.

This particular article lends support to this concept.  Researchers looked at how much some basic lifestyle changes affected risk for heart disease.  These risk factors were:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight
  2. Regular exercise
  3. Moderate alcohol consumption
  4. Abstinence from smoking

As noted, these are VERY basic lifestyle changes that anyone can implement with just a little bit of effort.  In this study, those with at least 3 of these factors were considered “good.”

So what did the researchers find?  They looked at the risk of having a heart attack and then developing congestive heart disease (heart failure) when compared to those with good lifestyle choices and no early family history.

  • 1.52 greater risk of for those with poor lifestyle score and no parents with a heart attack before 55 (single whammy)
  • 3.21 greater risk for those with good lifestyle score and parents who had a heart attack before 55 (single whammy) 
  • 4.60 greater risk for those with poor lifestyle scores and parental histories of premature MI.  (double whammy)

In summary, if you have a parent who had a heart attack before age 55 and you choose poor lifestyle choices, you will probably get denied life insurance.

On the other hand, even if you had “good” lifestyle choices but a parent who had a heart attack before age 55, you were still at quite a bit of risk.

Since I’ve been putting the “good” lifestyle choices into quotation marks, I thought I’d ad some simple changes that have been shown to have a solid impact on lowering your risk of developing heart disease.

  1. Dark chocolate has been shown time and time again to protect against heart disease
  2. Consider meditation to manage stress and lower your risk of all chronic diseases
  3. Switch to red wine (goes nice with the aforementioned dark chocolate…)
  4. Get a pet
  5. Maintain good oral health (brushing, flossing, tongue scraping)
  6. Use short burst aerobic exercise rather than prolonged aerobic exercise

The list can go on and on because we understand so much of what contributes to heart disease, but we’ll cut it short before you fall asleep and crack your forehead on the monitor…

So, if you have had a parent experience a heart attack before age 55, did this convince you that you need to take even better care of yourself?

James Bogash

For more than a decade, Dr. Bogash has stayed current with the medical literature as it relates to physiology, disease prevention and disease management. He uses his knowledge to educate patients, the community and cyberspace on the best way to avoid and / or manage chronic diseases using lifestyle and targeted supplementation.