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Heredity and genetics

Heart disease can run in families. In the case of coronary artery disease, if you have a 'first-degree relative' - a parent or sibling - who has had coronary artery disease at a younger-than-usual age (before 65 in women and before 55 in men) then you may be at increased risk.

Other factors in your family’s health history may also increase your risk of developing coronary artery disease – for example, if people in your family have conditions that are closely linked to coronary artery disease. This includes high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and problems with processing cholesterol. Again, the most significant risk is if you have a parent or sibling who has one or more of these conditions.

Some studies suggest that the risk of hereditary heart conditions is greater if the mother is the affected parent. Having two parents with coronary artery disease increases the risk further.

The greatest hereditary risk for coronary artery disease is indicated by having a sibling with the condition. The link between male siblings appears to be particularly strong.

Can genetic risks be reduced?

Having a family history of heart disease is a non-modifiable risk – you can’t change who your parents or siblings are.

However, you can reduce your overall risk of heart disease by making sure you’re aware of, and address, the risk factors that are in your control – smoking, diet and nutrition, your physical activity levels, weight and how much alcohol you drink.

It’s also a good idea to have your cholesterol levels and blood pressure checked more frequently and from an earlier age than you would if you had no family history of coronary artery disease.

Other types of heart disease can also have genetic links. These include inherited, or congenital, conditions related to malformation of the hearts valves, walls or chambers.

Once again, the best course of action in these cases is to make sure you do all you can to reduce other risk factors that are in your control.

Next: Medications for coronary artery disease

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

Last published 31 October 2010

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