When a family member has a sudden and unexpected heart attack, it’s a reminder that heart disease can be inherited and that you can take precautions to lower your risk. But it’s shocking when a heart attack occurs in someone with no family history.
Now, researchers have unveiled evidence suggesting heart attacks may not be as strongly tied to genetic factors as previously thought. The study, presented recently at the 2014 conference of the American Society of Human Genetics, looked at data from 700,000 patients who are part of Intermountain Healthcare’s Genealogy Registry. Scientists found that severe coronary artery disease — heart disease — can be inherited regardless of whether someone has a heart attack.
The study also found that family history was not linked to heart attacks in people who have less severe heart disease.
“Although in almost all situations someone needs to have some level of coronary disease in order to have a heart attack, some people will have a heart attack when they only have mild coronary disease — where there’s only a small amount of narrowing of the artery — while others will have a heart attack with severe coronary narrowing,” said Benjamin D. Horne, PhD, MPH, director of cardiovascular and genetic epidemiology at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute and an author of the study.
In the past, doctors thought heart attacks and heart disease were essentially the same thing and that if someone had coronary disease, they would eventually have a heart attack. But studies have revealed that while certain genetic factors are strongly connected to heart disease they had no connection to heart attacks.
Researchers have identified many gene mutations linked to the presence of heart disease, and knowing that you have a family history of heart disease is important information. But prevention of heart attack risk involves much more.
The new study, Horne said, “may help people realize that, through their choices, they have greater control over whether they ultimately have a heart attack.”
How to Reduce Your Risk for a Heart Attack
- Adopt a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grain and high fiber foods fish, lean protein and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
- Reduce blood cholesterol levels. Total cholesterol should be less than 180 mg/dL.
- Lower high blood pressure. Blood pressure should be less than 120/80 mmHg.
- Be physically active every day. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity five or more days a week.
- Aim for a healthy weight. Knowing your body mass index can help you decide if you need to lose weight. Talk to your doctor about how to lose weight.
- Manage your diabetes. People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease.
- Reduce stress. Too much stress often keeps people from eating healthy or leads them to drink too much or smoke.
- Limit alcohol intake. Too much alcohol can raise blood pressure and produce an irregular heartbeat.