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Having "the talk" when heart disease runs in the family, from the September 2013 Harvard Heart Letter

When heart disease or stroke runs in a family, it's important to talk about it with children and other close family members. The conversation may be hard, but the payoff—better health for all—can be huge, according to the September 2013 Harvard Heart Letter.

"Knowing your family history is one of most powerful tools we have to guide how we take care of ourselves from a health perspective," says Dr. Paula A. Johnson, professor of cardiology at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Division of Women's Health at Brigham and Women's Hospital. "This is a chance for your children to make changes that will have both immediate and long-term payoffs."

Having a family history of heart disease isn't trivial. In a study of more than 122,000 Utah families, 14% had a history of heart disease. But members of those families made up 72% of people who had early heart disease, 48% of people with heart disease at any age, and 86% of people who had strokes before age 75.

Genes are not destiny. Whatever an individual's family history, his or her personal health decisions matter most. Prevention—through diet, lifestyle, and health care—makes a huge difference.

What to tell children depends on their ages. If they haven’t yet reached young adulthood, it’s more important to reassure them than to scare them. Older children, especially adults, need more information. Depending on the kind of heart disease that runs in a family, tests such as cholesterol or blood pressure checks or scans of the heart may be needed.

Read the full-length article: "How to talk with your kids when heart disease runs in the family"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Heart Letter

  • How to talk with your kids when heart disease runs in the family
  • Ask the doctor: Beta blockers and alcohol
  • Ask the doctor: Warfarin interactions
  • Angioplasty and stenting safe in smaller hospitals
  • New alternatives to warfarin
  • First rule of dementia prevention: Take care of your heart
  • 7 simple changes lower stroke risk
  • Research we're watching: Blood pressure high? Control LDL
  • Research we're watching: Vitamin D, heart disease and race
  • Research we're watching: Emergency Rx for major TIA

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.