If my parents have heart problems, will I?
There has been evidence that heart disease can be passed on genetically from parent to
child. While not directly inherited as a simple dominant trait, there is a strong tendency
for coronary heart disease to run in families. Most often this is associated with a
progressive disease which causes problems with the heart muscle, itself, such as a
congenital problem with heart enlargement. I would recommend that individuals who have a
strong family history of known heart disease be checked earlier in life, i.e. their
mid-to-late 30s, for the possibility of heart disease. Also, since problems with elevated
cholesterol has been linked within families, these people should have their cholesterol or
lipid status evaluated at least once during their teenage years and then every five years
thereafter until age 40. It has not been definitely established whether this is truly a
genetic factor, or occurring due to eating habits which are developed from long-time and
traditional patterns of consuming foods high in fat. A very real risk factor, however, is
rheumatic heart disease as it occurs within families. This is not uncommon, especially in
areas where rheumatic fever is prevalent. Studies in military populations have shown that
acute rheumatic fever occurs in 3% of individuals. This may be related to travel in
countries which have substandard, overcrowded housing and close person-to-person contact.
Streptococcal viral infections are the source of rheumatic fever which leads to rheumatic
heart disease, and any strep infection occurring within a family should be taken
seriously, with appropriate antibiotic therapy given to affected family members.