Vim & Vigor - Fall 2017 - University of Virginia - 21

"Genetics certainly is part of what
puts you at risk for heart disease," says
Martha Gulati, MD, a cardiologist and
the editor-in-chief of the American
College of Cardiology's patient education and empowerment initiative,
CardioSmart.org. "And there's not one
unique marker. There are 50 or so that
seem to be the strongest indicators of
heart disease. We have probably not
even identified them all yet."
Having some of those genetic markers makes it more likely for someone
to have high cholesterol; other markers
increase a person's risk of high blood
pressure, diabetes or obesity. All of
them increase your risk for heart disease
to some degree.
Heart disease also tends to run in
families because of shared lifestyle habits. In other words, if your parents ate a
high-sodium, high-fat, high-sugar diet,
you're more likely to eat the same.
"The foods that were cooked for
you, the emphasis on physical activity-
there's more to familial heart disease
than just your genetics," Gulati says.
There's also more to heart disease
risk than just family history.

FITNESS OVER
FAMILY HISTORY

Just because your family history puts
you at greater risk for heart disease
doesn't mean you'll develop it. In fact,
a recent study published in the New
England Journal of Medicine (NEJM)
showed that lifestyle factors can overrule heredity. The study found that
making even a relatively modest effort
to live healthfully can cut your risk for
heart disease by up to 50 percent.
The study looked at four factors and
their effect on heart disease risk: not
smoking, maintaining a body mass
index (BMI) of less than 30, getting
regular physical activity and eating a
healthy diet.
"The study showed even people with
the highest genetic risk could cut their
risk in half by doing three out of the

four things," says Nisha Jhalani, MD,
the director of the Women's Heart
Health Initiative at the Cardiovascular
Research Foundation. "It supports what
doctors have been telling patients for
years-that you can balance the things
you can't change with healthy behaviors
you can change."
And you don't need to transform your
whole life to benefit.
"When the study authors talked
about healthy lifestyle, the way they
diagnosed it was very liberal," Gulati
says. "Risk was reduced with weekly
physical activity, a general healthy eating pattern, not smoking and not being
obese. Being overweight [having a BMI
between 25 and 29.9] was OK."

OTHER WAYS TO
REDUCE RISK

While the NEJM study didn't look at
the following factors, research suggests
they, too, are beneficial in reducing risk
of heart disease:
Get enough sleep. Poor-quality sleep
increases blood pressure, an important
risk factor for heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
Aim for six to eight hours per night of
quality sleep.
Manage diabetes. Uncontrolled diabetes damages blood vessels, making you
more susceptible to heart disease. You're
also more likely to have a heart attack
without realizing it, as diabetes can
damage nerves that signal pain. Keep
your blood glucose levels under control.
Ask about medication. If diet
and exercise aren't enough to reduce
your blood pressure or cholesterol,
talk to your doctor about prescribing medication.
Reduce stress. Stress doesn't directly
cause heart disease, but it can increase
the likelihood you'll engage in other
risk factors such as smoking, drinking,
overeating and being inactive. Learn to
alleviate stress in healthy ways, such
as deep breathing, exercising or simply
taking time to relax. ■

DON'T
IGNORE
A FAMILY
HISTORY
As many as 1.3 million Americans
have inherited some form of heart
or vascular disease. Living with a
hereditary disease can be emotionally challenging.
If you have a known or suspected
hereditary heart condition, you'll
want to turn to the experts at UVA
Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic.
They can help you manage many
of the personal aspects of having
an inherited condition and help
answer important questions like:
* Can genetic testing help with
my medical care?
* How likely am I to pass this
condition on to my children?
* What is my risk of disease?
* Is genetic testing right for me or
other members of my family?
Not sure if a heart condition runs
in your family? One important clue
is a sudden unexplained cardiac
death in a relative who is under age
50. Genetic testing requires a small
blood sample, which many insurance
plans cover.

WEBSITE

Does a Heart
Condition Run in
Your Family?
If you have a hereditary
heart condition, you'll want to
make an appointment at UVA
Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic. Go
to uvahealth.com/cvgenetics.

FALL 2017

21


http://www.CardioSmart.org http://www.uvahealth.com/cvgenetics

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Vim & Vigor - Fall 2017 - University of Virginia - Contents
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Vim & Vigor - Fall 2017 - University of Virginia - Cover3
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