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Heart Disease Health Center

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Women Ignoring Family Heart Risk?

Experts Tell Women With Family History of Premature Heart Attack to Upgrade Lifestyle for Heart Health
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Sept. 14, 2007 -- Women may be more likely than men to need a heart-healthy lifestyle makeover if premature heart attacks run in their family.

That's the bottom line from a new study published in the American Heart Journal.

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of U.S. men and women. Having a family history of premature heart attack (heart attack before 50 for men or 55 for women) worsens the odds.

Among people with a family history of heart attacks, women were more likely than men to need to upgrade their lifestyle and to need a reality check about their heart risks.

Here's the good news: Though you can't change your family history, you can still do a lot to help your heart.

The researchers have two key recommendations for women with a family history of premature heart attack:

  • Understand your risk. Even if you're young, your family history doesn't bode well.
  • Make your heart a priority. Upgrade your lifestyle for better heart health.
  • Tell your doctor about your family's heart history.

"It's important that women get this message and make appropriate lifestyle changes," says researcher Amit Khera, MD, MSc, in a news release.

"The earlier you make lifestyle changes, the more you decrease your risk factors for heart disease in the future," says Khera, a cardiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Women's Heart Risks

The study included some 2,400 Dallas men and women aged 30-50.

They reported their family history of premature heart attack in a first-degree relative (parent or sibling), smoking habits, physical activity, income, race, and whether they'd finished high school.

Participants also got heart scans and their blood pressure, fasting blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides, and BMI (body mass index) measured.

Most had no family history of premature heart attacks. But among those who did, women were more likely than men to smoke and to have a sedentary lifestyle.

Women with a family history of premature heart attack were also less likely than men to rate their lifetime heart attack risk as being at or above average.

That's not to say that the other participants were in tip-top shape. Regardless of family history, there's usually room for improvement in heart health.

The first step: See your doctor to gauge your heart health. Then work with your doctor to plan your course of action.

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