Was your father or brother diagnosed with heart disease before age 55 or your mother or sister before age 65? If so, you have a significant family history of heart disease, according to the National Cholesterol Education Program. While there isn’t anything you can do to change this, a recent Annals of Internal Medicine study strongly suggests that you should make sure your doctor knows about it.
Researchers in the United Kingdom looked at the health records of 748 patients in 24 doctors’ offices. All offices used traditional risk factors (age, sex, smoking, systolic blood pressure and cholesterol levels) to determine their patients’ risk for heart disease. In about half of those offices, patients filled out surveys on family history of heart disease. The other half practiced usual care—that is, they were not explicitly asked to collect data on family history.
Results showed that in the offices that added family history to traditional risk assessment, the number of people determined to be at high risk for heart disease increased by 40 percent. Only two additional high-risk patients were identified in the usual care offices, mostly because so few of them asked about family history (or included it in their medical records).
Bottom line: Family history counts. If yours is significant for heart disease, you should multiply your Framingham 10-year risk score by 1.5—that is, increase it by 50 percent. If this puts you in a higher risk category, your doctor may want to you to make more stringent changes in diet, exercise more and/or initiate more aggressive treatment with medication.