I am
Know your risk: Family history and heart disease 
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Know your risk: Family history and heart disease 

A family history of heart disease could mean you are at greater risk.

Key takeaways

  • If a member of your family has heart disease, you have a family history of heart disease 
  • A family history of heart disease can increase your chances of developing a heart condition  
  • Even if you have a family history, you can help lower your chances of developing heart disease by speaking to a doctor and adopting a healthy lifestyle
3 min read

What is a family history of heart disease?

When you have a family history of a disease, this means a member of your family has, or had that disease. 
Generally, if you have a family history of a heart condition, you may have a higher risk of developing a heart condition. 

What's the difference between family history and inherited conditions? 

Inherited conditions are caused by a fault (or mutation) in one or more of your genes. If one of your parents has a faulty gene, there's a chance you’ll inherit it. Some common inherited conditions are: 
 
  • Heart muscle diseases 
  • Life-threatening heart rhythms 
  • Very high cholesterol levels. 
Family history is more complex. Rather than just a single faulty gene, it could be a combination of shared genes and environments passed down from one generation to the next, which increases the risk of developing a disease. 

How do you know if you have a family history of heart disease? 

To work out if you have a family history of heart disease, you’ll need to look at two things: 
 
  1. Identify which member of your family had or has heart disease  
  2. Their age when they were first diagnosed. 
If one of your immediate family members, such as a parent or sibling, has had a heart attack, a stroke, or was diagnosed with heart disease before the age of 60, this may indicate a family history of premature heart disease. This means that your chances of developing the same condition may be higher than normal.  

How does a family history of heart disease increase your risk? 

A family history could increase your risk of developing heart disease in a number of ways.  
Inherited genes You could’ve inherited genes that cause heart disease. While there’s no single gene that causes heart disease, several genes can work together to increase your chances of developing it. Certain genes can pass on risk factors such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. 
Shared environments Shared environments can also be passed on to you from the previous generation in your family. You may have developed certain eating habits or lifestyle behaviours, such as preferences for certain types of food or a sedentary lifestyle. 

What can you do about it?  

Let your doctor know if you have a family history of heart disease. A Heart Health Check is recommended from the age of 45 (from 30 for Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples), but your doctor may want to assess your risk of developing heart disease earlier if you have a family history of heart disease.  

You may not be able to change your family history or genetics, but you can make positive changes to your lifestyle to lower your risk. Adopting the following healthy lifestyle habits can help lower your chances of developing heart disease: 

 

  • Be smoke free 
  • Do regular exercise  
  • Eat a heart healthy diet 
  • Maintain a healthy body weight 
  • Lower your alcohol intake 
  • Look after your mental health 
  • Manage high blood pressure and cholesterol 
  • Manage diabetes.  
 
If you have a family history of heart disease, visit your doctor to discuss your risk of developing heart disease. 
 
If you are 45 and over, make sure you see your doctor for regular Heart Health Checks, to keep an eye on your heart health and minimise your risk of developing heart disease. 
 

You might also be interested in

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril suffered a heart attack in 2015. Cardiac rehab helped get his life back on track. ...

What's your BMI?

What's your BMI?

What's your BMI?

Are you within a healthy weight range for your height?...

Cholesterol and triglycerides action plan

Cholesterol and triglycerides action plan

Key steps that can help you manage your cholesterol and triglyceride levels....

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

Kylie defied the heart attack stereotypes

Kylie defied the heart attack stereotypes

Kylie defied the heart attack stereotypes

Cardiac rehabilitation was a turning point for Kylie and essential to her heart failure recovery....

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Could you be at risk of heart disease? Get your estimated heart age now....

Blood pressure and your heart

Blood pressure and your heart

Blood pressure and your heart

Understand blood pressure and how it can impact your heart health....

Norm discovered he was at risk of a major heart attack just in the nick of time

Norm discovered he was at risk of a major heart attack just in the nick of time

Norm discovered he was at risk of a major heart attack just in the nick of time

Norm didn’t worry too much about his cholesterol problem – until an angiogram revealed he had an 80 per cent blockage in a major heart artery. ...

Quit smoking action plan

Quit smoking action plan

Cardiovascular disease risk factors and heart attack warning signs in women

Cardiovascular disease risk factors and heart attack warning signs in women

Cardiovascular disease risk factors and heart attack warning signs in women

Information for healthcare professionals and the public on cardiovascular disease risk factors and warning signs affecting women. ...

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Could you be at risk of heart disease? Get your estimated heart age now....

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Environment, climate change and heart health

Environment, climate change and heart health

Environment, climate change and heart health

Information on how air pollution, heatwaves and bushfires can impact heart health, and what you can do to look after yourself. ...

Advocating for healthy hearts throughout Australia

Advocating for healthy hearts throughout Australia

We're addressing the disparities in heart health so all Australians can live longer, healthier lives....

Nutrition after a heart attack

Nutrition after a heart attack

Nutrition after a heart attack

Discover key information on heart-healthy eating and drinking....

Physical activity after a heart attack

Physical activity after a heart attack

Physical activity after a heart attack

Discover what you need to know about being active after a heart attack....

Your heart medicines

Your heart medicines

Your heart medicines

Information about commonly prescribed heart medicines. ...

What is angina?

What is angina?

What is angina?

Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that’s a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary heart disease (CHD)....

Seared salmon with lentil salad

Seared salmon with lentil salad

15 minutes
Serves 4

Heart Foundation reviews its operations in challenging financial environment

Heart Foundation reviews its operations in challenging financial environment

Heart Foundation reviews its operations in challenging financial environment

6 September 2021...

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)

Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection (SCAD)

Clinical information and links to SCAD resources....

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Meditation helped Grant recover from his heart attack

Thankfully for Grant Byrne, a lifelong Led Zeppelin fan, some quick thinking helped him avoid a stairway to heaven. Read Grant’s heart attack story now. ...

Asian recipes

Asian recipes

Asian recipes

Find heart healthy Asian recipes....

Q&A with A/Prof Seana Gall

Q&A with A/Prof Seana Gall

Q&A with A/Prof Seana Gall

Improving the prevention and management of stroke...

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment and management

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk assessment and management

Absolute CVD risk assessment is an integrated approach that estimates the cumulative risk of multiple risk factors to predict a heart attack or stroke event in the next five years....

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

The fundraising race where you set the pace. Run, jog or walk MyMarathon at your own pace during October....

Roast chicken with onion, cherry tomato and pine nut stuffing

Roast chicken with onion, cherry tomato and pine nut stuffing

1 hour 50 minutes
Serves 6

3 Minute Research Competition Terms & Conditions

3 Minute Research Competition Terms & Conditions

Fats, oils and heart health

Fats, oils and heart health

Fats, oils and heart health

Get the right balance of healthy fats in your diet ...

For Professionals: Coronary artery calcium scoring

For Professionals: Coronary artery calcium scoring

The National Heart Foundation of Australia Position Statement: Coronary artery calcium scoring for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in Australia.¹...

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

What is a cardiac arrest?

With immediate help a cardiac arrest can be survived. Learn how to save a life....

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease and pregnancy

Heart disease and pregnancy

Pregnancy is often referred to as the “ultimate stress test” for the body....

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

10 ways to get the right balance of fats 

Getting the right balance of fats in your diet can improve your heart health....

Paprika chicken with pumpkin and spinach salad

Paprika chicken with pumpkin and spinach salad

32 minutes
Serves 4

Smoking and tobacco regulation

Smoking and tobacco regulation

There are still more than 20,000 deaths caused by smoking every year....

2022 Vanguard Grants

2022 Vanguard Grants

Heart failure resources for patients

Heart failure resources for patients

Educate your patients on everything they need to know about heart failure and managing their condition ...

For professionals: Guidelines for acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

For professionals: Guidelines for acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

Australian  guidelines  for  prevention, diagnosis and  management of  acute  rheumatic  fever and  rheumatic  heart  disease ...

Donation receipts

Donation receipts

Donation receipts

Due to end of financial year and the ongoing lockdowns in several states, we are currently experiencing some delays in processing and receipting of donations....

Ranch dressing

Ranch dressing

Ranch dressing

Serves Makes 1 cup | Serves 6 (2 tablespoons – 40ml)