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Dinner Table Has More than Just Food to Offer for Heart Health

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Posted: 12/13/2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The holiday dinner table could have more to offer for heart health than just a selection of grains, fruits and vegetables. Those sitting around the table might be able to provide the most heart health benefits of all – in the form of a family history.

“There is power in knowing your family’s medical history,” says Amy Sturm, a genetic counselor specializing in cardiovascular disease at The Ohio State University Medical Center. “Though there is no way to predict with certainty what the future holds, there are definite risk factors that can be identified by looking at traits across generations.”

The “red flags” in a family history that could indicate a high risk for heart disease include:

· Heart disease at a young age in one or more close relatives (male before 55 or female before 65)

· Heart disease in both mother and father

· Two or more close relatives on the same side of the family with the same or related conditions (such as cardiovascular disease – heart attack or blocked arteries – stroke, diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure)

· Sudden death in a relative who appeared to be healthy

· A relative who has been diagnosed with a specific type of hereditary heart disease (including some forms of heart muscle diseases and arrhythmias).

The division of human genetics at OSU Medical Center offers testing for certain heart disorders, as well as a family history risk assessment that can lead to management and prevention recommendations.

Genetic counselors work with physicians to emphasize primary prevention through lifestyle, diet, exercise and possibly medication to those identified through family history, and potentially genetic testing, to be at high risk. “And even gene mutations that are identified through testing don’t spell a 100 percent chance of contracting a given disease, but instead indicate increased risk,” Sturm said.

Patients known to be affected by a heart condition and their families can receive genetic testing and counseling services that include detailed family histories, blood draws and analysis, results discussions with counselors, and referrals to appropriate health care providers for additional assessments and treatment.

But the simplicity of learning one’s own family history has become a point of focus among heart disease experts because nearly one in three people in the United States has a family history of heart disease but may not know it.

“You need to know your family history. It’s easy, all it takes is talking to family members, and it’s the best way to really protect yourself as well as protecting your future,” Sturm said.

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Emily Caldwell
Medical Center Communications

Heart Disease; OSU Medical Center; Ross Heart Hospital