Knowing the diseases and conditions that run in your family can protect your own health—and your children's.

Case in point: Heart disease. It's the number one killer in America, but having a family history of early heart disease boosts your individual chances of a heart attack.

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The good news is heredity does not mean destiny. Armed with information, you can start working with your doctor now to protect your heart.

So, at your next family get-together, take some time to talk about your family's medical history. For starters, you need to know if your father, brother or son had a heart attack before age 55, or if your mother, sister or daughter had one prior to age 65. Also keep track of risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.

Use these resources to record your family health history so you can share it with your relatives and doctor.

1. Record Your Family Health History

The Surgeon General's Family History Initiative
This site contains information and a tool, called "My Family Health Portrait," for creating a personalized family health history.

CDC, Office of Genomics and Disease Prevention, Family History
Offers valuable information about family health history and includes FAQs, fact sheets and case studies.

National Human Genome Research Institute
Provides information about genetic testing, key issues in genetics and health, fact sheets, and a glossary of terms.

2. Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke

Take these steps to protect your heart now for better health in the years ahead:

  • eat less fat and sodium and more fiber-rich fruits and vegetables
  • get regular exercise
  • lose excess weight

The following websites and tools make it easy to get started toward these goals.

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Consumers & Patients
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has put together consumer guides on a number of health topics, including heart health. Get tips on losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking and more. These guides were developed based on the agency's clinical practice guides for physicians.

CDC: Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables Every Day
Eating more fruits and vegetables and less fatty meats can help tip the balance in favor of heart health. Fruits and vegetables also contain cholesterol-lowering fiber and blood-pressure-stabilizing potassium. Visit the site for easy, tasty recipes and helpful tips.

CDC, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity, Overweight and Obesity
Find strategies and resources to help you achieve a healthy weight. Shedding excess pounds helps lower your cholesterol and blood pressure to more normal levels.

CDC, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Physical Activity
New research comes out every day on the health benefits of physical activity. So get off the couch!

HHS, 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669)
Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease and heart attack. Quitting, however, provides both immediate and lasting benefits. Within 20 minutes of quitting, your blood pressure decreases; within a day, your chances of a heart attack drop.

Start a plan to quit smoking today! is an online resource designed to help and support smokers who want to quit and non-smokers who want to help. The site has a step-by-step cessation guide, and interactive tools including a National Cancer Institute-staffed instant messaging service, local and national quitlines, and publications for download.

3. Learn More About Heart Disease and Stroke

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Provides resources, including fact sheets and web tools about heart and vascular disease.

American Heart Association
Get authoritative information and guidelines on lowering your heart risks.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Provides information and links to other resources about stroke and stroke-related research.
Healthfinder is a free portal to reliable health information, developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The site provides an easy-to-use, searchable index of carefully reviewed health information from over 1,500 government agencies, nonprofit organizations and universities.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 30 Apr 2011

Last Modified: 26 Oct 2015