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How does family history affect heart disease?

Medically reviewed by Carmen Pope, BPharm. Last updated on March 14, 2023.

Official answer


There are two main ways family history can affect heart disease: you can inherit genes that increase your risk of developing conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol OR you may have learned certain ways of living or behaviors from your family, such as only eating lots of fried or processed foods or not liking sports or physical activity.

Inherited genes

Several genes work together to increase your risk of heart disease and it is possible to inherit some of these from different family members, rather than just one person or inherit a single gene. This can mean that certain conditions, such as high cholesterol or coronary artery disease, can run in families.

Lifestyle factors and behaviors

Do you eat a healthy diet - that is one with lots of vegetables, some fruit, and lots of fiber? Do you exercise every day? Do you smoke? Drink? Eat out a lot?

Many habits we pick up from our families we carry through to our adult lives. Improving your diet and stopping other behaviors that increase your risk of heart disease, can help improve your chances of living a long and healthy life.

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

Ask your family! This may not be so easy to do if you are adopted or if your family lives on the other side of the world, but just talking with your parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews about any health conditions they have that they are willing to disclose, can help you identify if you are at higher risk. Conditions such as diabetes, or the tendency to put on weight easily, also increase your risk for heart disease. Ask your family questions such as:

  • Have you ever had a heart attack or has a relation of yours had a heart attack?
  • Have you ever had an operation on your heart or a procedure on your heart such as an angiogram?
  • Has your doctor diagnosed you with coronary artery disease, angina, or atherosclerosis?
  • Does your heart beat normally or do you have an arrhythmia, such as atrial fibrillation? Do you have a pacemaker?
  • Do you have high cholesterol or does one of your family have it?
  • Do you have diabetes or high blood pressure?
  • Do you take any medications for your heart?
  • Were you born with heart disease?
  • Have you ever had a stroke or an aortic aneurysm?

Knowing your family history can help you to take steps to reduce your risk of developing heart disease or a heart attack yourself. If you are diagnosed with a heart condition yourself, make sure to let your doctor as well as your family members know. Update your doctor regularly with any new diagnosis.

Include both your mother’s and father’s side of the family such as your parents, sisters, brothers, children, grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. Note which relatives answer yes to your questions and ask them what age they were diagnosed or treated. Try and find out if anybody has died from a heart-related event.

Related questions

  • Family Health History of Heart Disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. February 10, 2022.,cholesterol%2C%20can%20run%20in%20families.

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