Coronary heart disease is the leading killer of women and men in the United States. When blood vessels become too narrow due to plaque buildup, they cut off the circulation of blood and oxygen to the heart so the heart cannot function.
High cholesterol, which contributes to plaque buildup in your arteries, often has no noticeable side effects, but it eventually leads to symptoms and conditions associated with heart disease. Think: angina pectoris (chest pain), cardiomyopathy (losing the ability to pump blood and beat at a normal rhythm) and myocardial infarction (heart attack). If you have a congenital heart defect, your child could have up to a 50 percent risk of having the same defect. Cardiovascular disease also comes with a genetic risk, though researchers are unclear about exactly how much.
If someone in your family has or had heart disease...
A note on strokes: They may be a symptom of genetic disorders like CADASIL (Cerebral Autosomal Dominant Arteriopathy with Sub-cortical Infarcts and Leukoencephalopathy, the most common genetic cause of stroke). According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, this is caused by a genetic mutation that thickens blood vessel walls in the brain and cuts off blood flow. If your parent had CADASIL, you have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the disease.
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