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A Family History of Heart Disease Doesn’t Have to Be Your Future

Monday, May 21st, 2012

Heart disease is a growing problem in America.  It is the leading cause of death in both men and women, and is even more of a problem for African Americans.  For many Americans the tendency towards heart disease runs in the family, and with their fast food addiction and sedentary lifestyles, the risk only increases.  Just because you may have a history of heart disease in your family though, doesn’t mean it’s a fate you have to suffer.

Jennifer Sedbrook, an OSF Cardiovascular Service Line Leader, says that “We can control all but two of the factors that affect heart disease; family history and age.”  OSF (Order of St. Francis) Healthcare is a nonprofit Catholic health care corporation that operates a medical group, hospital system, health plan, and other health care facilities in Illinois and Michigan.  According to OSF, There are other important factors which can also increase our risk though, and those include our BMI, or body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight.  It’s important to be aware of your body and to know each of these numbers, so that if there is a change, you can alert your doctor.  Additionally, if you know your body mass index and, consequently, weight are not where they should be, you can be proactive.  By eating healthy and committing to a regular exercise routine, you can drastically reduce your risk of heart disease.  This, along with controlling the amount of stress in your life, will decrease your cholesterol and blood pressure.

Ann Ripsom, one woman in a family of 7 siblings, has lowered her own risk factors by quitting smoking, joining Weight Watchers, and getting regular check-ups with her doctor.  She decided to get involved with the OSF Women’s Heart Ambassadors after losing three of her brothers to heart disease.  Three of her other siblings have also suffered from major heart issues.  Despite such an intense family history of heart problems, Ann does not show signs of the disease and is working to help others decrease their factors too.  She says that the most important thing to do is to take control of your risk factors and do not ignore signs your body may be giving you. In addition, people need to know the various symptoms of a heart attack, which can include chest pain, jaw pain, pain in either arm, nausea, sweating, disorientation, and fatigue.

More than 616,000 people died of heart disease in 2008 alone.  That accounted for 25% of the deaths in America that year.  By becoming educated about your risk factors, these kinds of deaths can be prevented.  Knowing this information and taking steps toward prevention is the most important thing you can do.  So find out what your numbers are, start eating healthy, and above all, get active.  Don’t let your family’s history determine your future.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.