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.MORE: Heart Disease in Women, Overlooked If someone in your family has or had heart disease…

  • Find out: The exact kind of heart disease your relative had, in order to get further testing.
  • Test this: Did your family member have cardiomyopathy or an irregular heartbeat? Knowing the specifics will help your doctor know if you should get a echocardiogram versus an electrocardiogram (ECG). There are at least seven other tests available that your doctor can consider.
  • Keep in mind: Everyone after the age of 20 should be getting their cholesterol checked every five years with a fasting lipoprotein profile.
  • Take a simple step:  You may be able to lower your genetic heart disease risk with a diet high in raw vegetables and fresh fruit.

STUDY: Your Diet Changes Heart Disease Risk 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.QUIZ: Are You Eating the Right Foods?