Harvard Women's Health Watch

Heart disease risk may be all in the family

It's not just your genes; habits and attitudes also run in the family.

Heart disease is not exactly the same in the two sexes. Women develop the condition later in life; their symptoms are often different from men's or more subtle; and they are affected more by certain risk factors, such as high levels of triglycerides (a fat in the blood). But women and men also share many risk factors for heart disease, and one of the most important is family history.

It's no secret that heart disease can run in families, showing up in grandparents and parents, children and grandchildren. Heredity is certainly a factor, but families pass on more than DNA. Family members live together, eat together, and can influence one another's attitudes toward smoking, exercise, weight, diet, portion sizes, and other factors that have an impact on heart health and disease.

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