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Health Challenge: Take Heart – Know Your Family History!

The Basics

February is American Heart Month. Heart disease (also called cardiovascular disease) is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. The good news is heart disease can often be prevented by making healthier choices. Controlling and preventing risk factors is also important for people who already have cardiovascular disease.

You may have a higher risk for heart disease if1:

  • You are a woman over age 55
  • You are a man over age 45
  • Your father or brother had heart disease before age 55
  • Your mother or sister had heart disease before age 65

Take Action

To lower your heart disease risk:

  • Start with small changes, like using spices to season your food instead of salt
  • Watch your weight
  • Quit smoking and stay away from secondhand smoke
  • Control your cholesterol and blood pressure
  • If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation
  • Get active and eat healthy
  • Know your family health history

One of the most important steps in reducing your risk of heart disease is knowing your family health history. Family members share genes, behaviors, lifestyles, and environments that together may influence your health. The more you know about your family's health history, the better armed you’ll be to reduce your risk of heart disease and other health issues. Recording your family health history provides a written or graphic record of the diseases and health conditions present in your family. A good family health history shows three generations of your biological relatives, age at diagnosis, and the age and cause of death of deceased family members2.

It is also helpful update your family health history from time to time. This way you will have organized and accurate information ready to share with your health care provider. This information may help your doctor determine which tests and screenings are best recommended for you.

This month, take the first step towards capturing a comprehensive family health history and complete the Family Health History Tree! Talk to those family memebers listed, and track who lives or has lived with chronic health conditions such as heart disease. Then, talk with your health care provider about what this means to you and others in your family and the steps beyond those mentioned here that might be taken to further reduce your risks.


  1. healthfinder.gov
  2. CDC: Family Health History