Getting a Grip on Genes and Heart Disease

Family tree

Family tree

Apart from the risk factors for heart disease that we can change, there are at least an equal number that we cannot. But we can manage them with exercise and healthy food, and, when necessary, with medicine. Here's how you might deal with five risk factors:

Gender: Men are more at risk for heart attacks than women. After reaching menopause, women's risk rises, but it never equals men's. Staying fit and cooking smart makes sense for both men and women. But men, especially those over 50, must remain especially vigilant.

Age: The older you are, the greater your chance of getting heart disease. We can't reverse aging, but we can make sure that as we get older, we don't stop exercising and eating heart-healthy food.

Family history: The children of parents who have coronary artery disease (CAD) are more likely than others to contract CAD. Children can also inherit a predisposition to high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. While drugs and a change in eating habits may not eradicate this risk factor, they can go a long way toward minimizing it.

A history of heart disease: If you have suffered a heart attack in the past, you are more likely than others to experience one in the future. In this case, listen to the experts: reduce stress, exercise, don't drink too much, don't smoke, and eat healthy foods.

Race: Physicians have found a higher risk for heart disease among African Americans, Native Americans, Mexican Americans, Native Hawaiians, and some Asian Americans. The reason: Members of these ethnic groups are more likely than whites to suffer from diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. In most people, hypertension and obesity can be controlled or reversed. Diabetes is often an inherited disease. Because it is also a consequence of obesity, in most cases, it can be avoided.