Approaching your loved ones and asking them about heart conditions or other diseases may be difficult. Maybe they don’t have all of the information; perhaps you feel uncomfortable talking about illness, or maybe the whole topic feels taboo in your family. In some communities, factors like distrust for the medical system or a lack of health insurance could further complicate the conversation because members of your family haven’t had access to vital information, timely diagnoses, or quality care.
Trust us — we understand.
However, learning about your family history could help you prevent heart disease or find a diagnosis early on, which can be life-saving.
In this blog, we’re sharing tips for starting the conversation to learn about your family history as well as how to share a diagnosis with your loved ones.
Your family’s heart health history can increase your chances of experiencing cardiovascular disease.
Talking about your loved ones’ health can be difficult, but a family’s heart health history can be an important risk factor for heart disease. Knowing about your family members’ experiences and diagnoses can help you stay on top of your own health and save your life.
Start the conversation by being open and empathetic with your family. Approach any living relatives like grandparents, parents, and aunts or uncles with curiosity and ask thoughtful questions like these:
- Has anyone in the family had a heart attack? How old were they? How was it?
- Is there a history of high blood pressure or high cholesterol in the family?
- Have my relatives had a stroke?
- Are there any relatives with a pacemaker or who needed heart surgery?
If you’re unsure what to look for, your doctor may be able to help you prepare for a conversation with specific questions to ask depending on your personal history.
Similarly, encourage open communication among your generation. Cousins and siblings could be at risk, too. And keep the information flowing with younger relatives by sharing your findings in age-appropriate contexts.
It’s also vital to understand that lifestyle factors like smoking, sedentary living, and highly processed or high-fat diets could also impact a person’s risk of heart disease. If these lifestyle factors are also present in your family, address those issues without passing judgment or casting blame and use that knowledge to inform your own lifestyle. Honest dialogue can help you prevent disease and help your family members live happier and healthier lives.
So you know your family’s heart history. What can you do with this information?
Once you’ve done your homework and learned about your family’s history with heart health, it’s time to take action. Talk to your doctor about your findings so that they can assess your risk and consider the best path for you moving forward.
Likewise, it’s essential for you to know your numbers. By numbers, we mean your cholesterol and triglycerides, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Combined with your family history, these numbers are a powerful tool in assessing your risk for heart disease and stroke.
It may be difficult to start the conversation. But learning about your family’s history is enlightening and may lead to a timely diagnosis or lifestyle changes that could transform your health.
If you’ve experienced symptoms you believe can be related to your heart, seek help — but don’t despair. Your medical records, along with your family’s history, will give your doctors a lot of helpful information to diagnose and prescribe treatment.
Family history is often the first clue in discovering heart conditions in a timely manner. For Charity, it took over one month of symptoms to discover what could have been fatal heart failure, despite the fact that both her parents had the condition and she had recently given birth, which is a significant heart risk on its own.
Outside the doctor’s office, there are many things you can do now to live heart-healthy. Yesenia is a WomenHeart Champion from New York who had three heart attacks in one day. Yesenia was aware that her father had passed away from a heart attack years before but thought her healthy habits (she’s a runner and yogi) would be enough to keep her safe.
These days, Yesenia continues to practice her favorite sports, and she’s now a Champion of her own.
Social support is paramount in thriving with heart disease
Social support is an essential component of thriving with heart disease. Being able to talk about your diagnosis can ease the burden and allow you to process your feelings. It can also help your loved ones feel better by understanding what you’re going through and how they can best support you. Plus, they’ll be informed and empowered to take preventive measures for their own health.
Beyond seeking support from your family, it may help to speak with others who’ve been in your shoes. Our WomenHeart Champions are women of all walks of life brought together by one common thread — they are all thriving with heart disease. And they’re vocal about their heart health history in hopes of educating, spreading awareness, and saving lives.
Are you living with or at risk of heart disease? Contact our WomenHeart Champions to find support.