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Heart Disease and Genetics

  • The Truth About Heart Disease Risk

  • Brought to you by: Dr. Alejandro Prieto and Sutter Delta Medical Center

  • Until recently, it was thought that if heart disease ran in your family, you would be destined to develop heart disease yourself. It turns out that theory was wrong.

    Three recent studies have shown that genetics represent a fraction of the overall risk factors for heart disease, and all of your risk factors – even the genetic ones – can be modified to help decrease your chances of developing heart disease.

  • Genetics and Heart Disease

  • While we share genes and disease such as high blood pressure with our relatives, we often share lifestyles as well. Perhaps your father and his father both had heart attacks. There may be a genetic link, but there is an equal possibility that they shared behavioral risk factors that may not apply to you:

    • Smoking
    • An inactive lifestyle
    • Poor diet

    By avoiding these risk factors in your own life, you may be able to play a proactive role in avoiding heart disease.

  • The Type of Plaque Matters

  • It was previously believed that most heart attacks developed from blockages obstructing 70 percent or more of an artery.

    A recent study, however, showed that the type of plaque that creates the blockage is as important, and perhaps more important, as the size of the blockage.

    Some types of blockage-causing plaques can more easily mix with the blood to create traveling blood clots. The traveling clots can become lodged in the heart’s arteries and cause a heart attack.

    A simple blood test can help identify patients with this clot-causing plaque, and there are medications that have been shown to significantly reduce their risks of heart disease.

    If you have a healthy cholesterol level but have:

    • Borderline diabetes
    • Obesity
    • Borderline high blood pressure
    • Lipid abnormalities
    you should talk to your doctor about being tested for clot-causing plaque.

    Even if you don’t meet these criteria you can still talk to your doctor, he or she can determine if you should be screened.

  • The 9 Factors You Can Control

  • A recent study conducted by the Interheart Study Group identified ten factors, some risk factors and some risk-reducing factors, that explain why 90 percent of first-time heart attacks occur.

    Risk Factors:

    • Diabetes
    • High blood pressure
    • High cholesterol
    • Stress
    • Abdominal obesity
    • Smoking
    Risk-Reducing Factors:

    • Exercise
    • Daily intake of fruits and vegetables
    • Moderate alcohol consumption

    By modifying your lifestyle to avoid (or manage) these risk factors and incorporate the risk-reducing factors you can play a role in preventing heart disease.

  • What if I Already Have Heart Disease?

  • Everyone, even heart disease patients, can decrease their risk of having a heart attack.

    In one recent study, patients with a history stable chest pain and at least one severely narrowed artery were divided into two groups:

    Group 1: Patients in the first group underwent a procedure to widen a narrowed artery and modified their risk factors (e.g. improved exercise and diet, controlled blood pressure and cholesterol levels, etc.).

    Group 2: Patients in the second group modified their risk factors but did not undergo surgery.

    At the study’s end, the number of patients in each group who had experienced a heart attack were similar, showing that even by itself prevention is a powerful tool for preventing heart attacks.

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