Maybe you already know that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US. You consider yourself to be pretty healthy, so you don't think you should be too concerned.

Then, you find out that your grandmother”who passed away when you were little”had heart disease. You begin to wonder: If grandma had heart disease, will I have it, too?

Here's what you should know about heart disease risk factors.

Is Heart Disease Genetic?

This question is actually a bit misleading. A better question to ask: Is a person's risk of getting heart disease genetic?

Source: American Heart Association

What Does Heart Disease Really Mean?

Heart disease should actually be called heart diseases. There is more than one kind. People with heart disease often have heart problems caused by plaque buildup in their arteries, a process called artherosclerosis.

Source: American Heart Association

The answer isn't a definite yes or no, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) explains.

A family history of heart disease can contribute to your risk level, especially if your father or brother was diagnosed before age 55, or your mother or sister was diagnosed before age 65.

But even that fact doesn't mean you have a higher than normal risk of getting heart disease. You have to look at lifestyle factors that may have contributed to your family member's diagnosis as well, the NHLBI says.

Maybe your father was obese and smoked a pack of cigarettes a day, but you're at a normal weight and have never smoked. If these lifestyle habits were the cause of your father's heart disease, then you can combat them in your own life.

How Important Is Knowing Your Family's Medical History?

Talking to your physician about your family's medical history can help her determine your risk level for heart disease, the American Heart Association (AHA) says.

But you don't need to climb too far out on the family tree.

The most important people are your immediate family members”your parents and siblings”and also your grandparents. You'll want to find out who had which conditions or symptoms and at what age, explains the AHA.

Keep in mind that a family history of heart disease does not mean you will definitely develop heart disease. It just means you have an increased risk.

What Other Factors Contribute To A Person's Heart Disease Risk?

Heart disease risk factors do not come down to nature vs. nurture. Both genes and environmental factors”like lifestyle and health habits”play a role in your overall risk level.

But it might be more helpful to look at risk factors in terms of things you can control and things you can't control.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

Heart Disease Risk Factors

You can control:

  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol
  • Diabetes symptoms
  • Excessive weight
  • Smoking
  • Exercise
  • Diet

You can't control:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Genetics

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

How Can You Reduce Your Heart Disease Risk?

To decrease your overall risk of heart disease, it may help to focus on tackling each individual risk factor, the NHLBI recommends.

For instance, if one of your risk factors is obesity, adopt a healthy lifestyle. Start by making smart food choices and staying physically active. The hidden bonus in this approach is that some healthy habits can counteract more than one risk factor.

So, if you tend to turn to food during stressful times, make stress management a priority. This not only decreases your stress risk factor, but it also decreases your overweight risk factor. You may also choose healthier alternatives, such as exercise.

If you're a parent, you can even get your kids in on it. This is important because some heart disease risk factors can begin during childhood, says the NHLBI. Making healthy living a family affair can benefit everyone in the long run.

Talk to a physician at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center about how to manage your heart disease risk factors.