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When a Chronic Disease Runs in Your Family     

Research proves it: Your odds for chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and stroke may be higher if it’s “all in the family.” If you have a parent, brother, or sister with one of these health issues, your own risk is elevated. 

Often, the risks overlap. For instance, if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, you are also at higher risk for a heart attack or stroke. The culprit: a combination of shared genetics and lifestyle habits such as diet, lack of exercise, and smoking. The good news: According to the National Institutes of Health and major research studies, even if you have a family history of one of these health threats, you can lower your risk by making smart lifestyle changes and following your doctor’s recommendations for screening tests and, if needed, medication. Here’s how to manage your risk for chronic disease.

Know Your Numbers

Keep up with important screenings, including:

  • Blood pressure:Get it checked at least once every two years. If your blood pressure is high, the American Heart Association recommends getting your numbers checked more frequently. A blood pressure reading below 120/80 mmHg is considered normal.

  • Cholesterol:Get it checked every four to six years (more often if you’re at higher risk for heart disease or stroke). Healthy blood cholesterol levels vary based on your age and gender. Talk with your doctor to determine the right cholesterol goal for you.

  • Blood sugar:Get it checked at age 45, with repeat checks at least every three years. The American Diabetes Associations recommends starting sooner if you’re overweight and have at least one other cardiovascular risk factor. Blood sugar levels should fall below 5.7 percent on an A1c test (a measurement of average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months).

Ask your doctor if you should follow these recommended screening intervals or if you need more frequent checks.

Take Control of Your Risk

  • Eat a healthy diet.An eating plan focused on produce, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy products, legumes, and moderate amounts of healthy fats can help. 

  • Get active.Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise at least five times a week.

  • Watch your weight.Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight can help lower your risk for high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and hypertension. 

  • Quit smoking.Not only does smoking hurt your lungs, but it also raises your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In turn, these can increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

  • Follow your doctor’s recommendations about medications.If your doctor prescribes medication to help you control your blood sugar, blood pressure, and/or cholesterol, take it as recommended. Be sure to see your doctor for follow-up care.

Online Medical Reviewer: Godsey, Cynthia, MSN, APRN, MSHE, FNP-BC
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Raymond Kent, BSN, MSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2019
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.