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The Broomfielder

Thanksgiving Table Talk

Nov 06, 2019 04:00PM

Thanksgiving Table Talk
The Importance of Knowing Your Family Health History

This Thanksgiving, as you sit around the dinner table with family, you’ll likely notice shared characteristics – a similar nose, same hair color, the way you hold your knife and fork. Beyond the obvious similarities, it’s also important to recognize those tied to our genetics – because these traits drive our health and wellbeing. Tim Howard experienced the connection between heart health and family in a very jarring fashion when an emergency room physician at Avista Adventist Hospital shared the news; his left anterior descending artery was blocked, and he was experiencing a massive heart attack. “Having a family history of heart disease, I knew I might be at higher risk, but I was extremely fit and watched my diet,” Howard recalled.

Data published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests having unlucky genetics can double your risk for heart disease. “Heart disease risk factors like cholesterol and type two diabetes often run in families, and both impact the cardiovascular system in a significant way,” said cardiologist Dr. Norman Gray, a physician with Colorado Heart and Vascular which services both Avista and sister hospital St. Anthony North. “If heart disease runs in the family, your primary care doctor will likely send you to somebody like me, and you should insist on a specialist any time heart disease has presented itself in your parents before the age of 60.” Cardiologists, like Dr. Gray, have many tools in their arsenal for investigating looming problems. “Beyond your annual cholesterol and blood pressure check, I can do additional lab work, scans, and clinical procedures that help identify potential problems early on, and then we treat to reduce risk.”

When collecting family history, it should span three generations, and comprise children, siblings, parents, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, grandparents, and cousins. For any reports of disease, you’ll want to note the age your relative first experienced issues. The Surgeon General has declared Thanksgiving to be National Family History Day, and it’s created a helpful web-based application to make gathering and storing the data as simple as possible. While you’ve got family together in one place this holiday, consider starting the conversation – because knowing your health history can help you avoid both heart disease and stroke – the No. 1 and No. 5 causes of death in America.

Back to Tim Howard, within one year of having his almost always fatal widow-maker heart attack, post-surgery, and after cardiac rehab, he went on to compete in the Boulder Ironman triathlon – an amazing accomplishment.  “IRONMAN training saved my life; it’s important to be fit. However, I’ve also learned fitness, and overall health are two different things. Family history doesn’t have to be limiting but utilizing that knowledge to get intervention and support is critical to wellbeing,” Howard concluded.

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