DEAR MAYO CLINIC: I am a 37-year-old man and have no health problems, but both of my parents have heart disease. My dad had his first heart attack at age 50. Are there things I can do now to prevent it, or is heart disease inevitable for me because of my family history?
ANSWER: Based on your family history, your risk for heart attacks is higher than the risk of a person without that kind of history. But that does not mean heart attacks are inevitable. A thorough medical evaluation can help determine your specific risk of developing heart problems. You can also take steps to help protect your heart health, no matter what your risk level.
A family history of heart attacks — especially one in a parent younger than 55, as in your father’s situation — is a major risk factor for the type of heart disease known as coronary artery disease, sometimes called CAD. Coronary artery disease develops when the major blood vessels that supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients — your coronary arteries — become damaged or diseased. Cholesterol-containing deposits, or plaques, and inflammation in your arteries are usually the source of coronary artery disease. There are many factors that may cause coronary artery disease, including high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, smoking, obesity and high blood pressure, to mention some.