Do You Have a Family History of Heart Disease? These Are the Questions a Cardiologist Says to Ask Your Doctor
When it comes to your health, it's important to be your own advocate. Keeping track of everything from health appointments and checkups to vaccination renewals are important parts of prioritizing your wellness, as is maintaining a healthy lifestyle and diet. For those who have hereditary health issues or a history of certain illnesses, such as heart disease, advocating for your long-term health also involves asking the right questions. As for the queries to pose at your next appointment? Dr. Seth Shay Martin, M.D., M.H.S, a cardiology specialist with Johns Hopkins Medicine, advises jotting the following ones down.
Do we know why my family has had heart disease?
When consulting with your doctor about your cardiovascular health questions, it's best to start at the beginning. Understanding if your family's heart disease is something hereditary or more lifestyle-related can lead to clear answers and treatment, notes Dr. Martin.
Should I look into my family's medical records?
A deeper look at any afflicted family members' medical records can potentially provide better insight your own health; at the very least, it will give your doctor a few data points (though you'll have to ask your family members, directly, to share their histories with your office, due to HIPAA laws). At most, examining your family members' health history might inform which tests you need, now or down the road—the results of those tests might give you better insights into the state of your own heart.
How are my cholesterol and blood pressure?
"Generally, if someone has heart disease, it is good to keep LDL cholesterol less than 70mg/dl," shares Dr. Martin. "If one does not have established heart disease, but has risk factors, then it is good to keep it less than 100mg/dl." As for blood pressure? Try to maintain a systolic blood pressure less than 130 mg Hg, he notes; our expert adds that diastolic blood pressure should be less than 80 mg Hg.
Do I have diabetes?
Monitoring your sugar levels is necessary, whether you already have heart disease or have the genetic markers for it. The reason? Those who have diabetes are more at risk for heart issues down the road). "If the hemoglobin A1c level—[which can be determined via] a simple blood test—is 6.5 percent or above, this indicates the presence of diabetes," shares Dr. Martin, adding that this could increase your changes of cardiovascular issues later in life.
Has my lipoprotein(a) level been checked?
"Lipoprotein(a) is a type of bad cholesterol that contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries and risk for heart disease," explains Dr. Martin. Unfortunately, your predisposition to plaque and blocked arteries is "strongly inherited," he shares, and "can be one explanation for a family history of heart disease." Do yourself—and your ticker—a favor and ask your physician to check your lipoprotein(a) values during your next round of blood work.
What can I do to lower my risk?
A healthy, active, and smoke-free lifestyle can help reduce the risk of heart disease, period. Beyond being your own advocate—and asking about testing options, lab work add-ons, or necessary medications—check in with your doctor about other lifestyle changes you can implement (namely through diet and exercise) to help support your heart's overall health, now and always.