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Genomics and Heart Disease

Three generations of menHaving close biological relatives with heart disease can increase your risk of developing this disease. Family health history offers important information to help you and your family members understand health risks and prevent disease. Sharing this information with your doctor can help to inform the screening approach that is best for you.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in the United States. More than 600,000 Americans die of heart disease annually. This represents almost 25% of all deaths in the United States. To raise awareness of this disease, February has been recognized as "American Heart Month" since 1963.

Some medical conditions (such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes) and lifestyle factors (such as an unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, and alcohol or tobacco use) can increase your risk of developing heart disease. Having close biological relatives with heart disease can also increase your risk of developing heart disease and can affect what screening is recommended for you and when.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) strongly recommends cholesterol screening for men aged 35 and older. For people who have a family history of early heart disease (i.e., before age 50 in male relatives or age 60 in female relatives), the USPSTF recommends cholesterol screening beginning at age 20 for both women and men. Your health care provider can help you evaluate your family history to determine a screening approach that is best for you.

Some families have a common genetic disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). This disorder causes elevated levels of low-density lipoprotein (or LDL) cholesterol, which can increase a person's risk for early coronary heart disease and death. Approximately 1 of every 500 people in the United States has FH (or an estimated 600,000 people). FH remains under-diagnosed and under-treated. However, once a person in the family is found to have FH, other members of the family with the disorder can be effectively identified using cascade testing (also known as family tracing). Early detection and treatment of FH can help reduce the risk for coronary heart disease and death in persons with the disorder.

Listen to a podcast about familial hypercholesterolemia.

Learn more about family health history.

Collect your family health history information using the Surgeon General’s My Family Health Portrait.

  • Page last reviewed: February 17, 2015
  • Page last updated: February 17, 2015
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