Heart Attack Genetics

Heart disease, like so many other diseases, is known to run in families. A link between your genes and heart disease may predispose you to heart disease and also put you at a higher risk for heart attacks.

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction, occurs when a blockage to the coronary artery interrupts the blood supply to the heart. A significant number of heart attacks are related to heart disease. However, unlike other diseases that run in families, such as sickle cell anemia and cystic fibrosis, there is not one single gene or one single cause of heart attacks or heart disease.

Risk Factors for Genetics and Heart Disease

In the United States and Canada, as well as many other countries, heart disease is the leading cause of death. There are many factors that can contribute to both heart disease and heart attacks, including family history. Diet and other lifestyle factors (such as smoking) are also significant factors that affect the development of heart disease.

If you are genetically predisposed to heart disease, your doctor may help you develop an exercise plan, refer you to a nutritionist, or take prescription medication. Doctors concerned about heart disease and heart attacks usually stress eliminating risk early.

Because a first heart attack can be fatal or seriously debilitating, preventing heart attacks is essential. You may have one or several risk factors for heart disease. Although you can’t control some risk factors, such as age, gender, race and family history, many risk factors are controllable, including your:

  • blood cholesterol
  • blood pressure
  • physical activity
  • obesity and body weight.

Genetics for Heart Disease

Genetic researchers are working to develop pharmaceutical drugs that combat genes known to cause heart attacks, such as the FLAP gene, the first known gene that carries a large risk for heart attack and stroke. The FLAP gene was discovered by Icelandic genetic researchers who analyzed a large population of heart attack patients and their family members.

Genetics, Heart Disease, and Family History

Your family history can help you determine if you have a propensity to developing heart disease. Your doctor can help identify other factors that may put you at risk, such as cholesterol and blood pressure.

If you have a family history of heart disease, your doctor may opt for a different or medical treatment plan. Your doctor may be particularly interested in the medical history of your closest relatives, such as your siblings and your parents. However, even if your family history predisposes you to heart attacks, a conscious, healthy lifestyle can lessen your risk significantly. Individuals with a family history of heart disease often have a family history of many of its risk factors.

Preventing Heart Attacks

The American Heart Association suggests that a healthy diet is one of the greatest weapons against heart disease. They also offer many other suggestions for those committed to maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle, including:

  • aim for a healthy weight
  • be physically active every day
  • limit consumption of alcohol
  • lower high blood pressure
  • manage diabetes
  • reduce blood cholesterol
  • reduce stress in your life
  • stop smoking.


American Heart Association. (2008).ABCs of preventing heart disease, stroke and heart attack. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from the American Heart Association Web site at: http://americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=3035374.

American Heart Association. (2008).Risk factors and coronary heart disease. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from the American Heart Association Web site at: http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4726.

CBS Interactive Inc. (2008). Familyhistory and heart disease. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from the CBS News Web site at: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2006/09/14/earlyshow/heartbeat/main2009393.shtml.

Medicine Net, Inc. (2005). FLAP doubles risk of heart attack. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from the Medicine Net Web site at: http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=27047.

Sternberg, Steve. (2004). Why heart attacks run in families: Genetics. Retrieved November 11, 2008, from the USA Today Web site at: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2004-12-22-cardiac-genetic-link_x.htm.