UC San Diego Health
menu icon
search iconSearch
Health Library Explorer
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A-Z Listings Contact Us

July 2019

When a Chronic Disease Runs in Your Family     

Group photo of an extended family

Research proves it: Your odds for chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, and stroke may be higher if it’s “all in the family.” If you have a parent, brother, or sister with one of these health issues, your own risk is elevated. For example, a family history of:

  • Type 2 diabetes nearly doubles your risk

  • Premature heart disease increases your risk by up to 75%

  • Prediabetes raises your risk by 26%

Often, the risks overlap. For instance, if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, you are also at higher risk for a heart attack or stroke. The culprit is a combination of shared genetics and lifestyle habits such as diet, lack of exercise, and smoking. The good news: According to the National Institutes of Health and major research studies, even if you have a family history of one of these health threats, you can lower your risk by making smart lifestyle changes and following your healthcare provider’s recommendations for screening tests and, if needed, medicine. Here’s how to manage your risk for chronic disease.

Know your numbers

Keep up with important screenings, including:

  • Blood pressure. Get it checked at least once every 2 years. If your blood pressure is high, the American Heart Association recommends getting your numbers checked more often. A blood pressure reading below 120/80 mmHg is considered normal.

  • Cholesterol. Get it checked every 4 to 6 years (more often if you’re at higher risk for heart disease or stroke). Healthy blood cholesterol levels vary based on your age and gender. Talk with your provider to determine the right cholesterol goal for you.

  • Blood sugar. Get it checked at age 45, with repeat checks at least every 3 years. The American Diabetes Association recommends starting sooner if you’re overweight and have at least one other cardiovascular risk factor. Blood sugar levels should fall below 5.7% on an A1c test. This test is a measurement of average blood sugar levels over the past 2 to 3 months.

Ask your healthcare provider if you should follow these recommended screening intervals or if you need more frequent checks.

Take control of your risk

  • Eat a healthy diet. An eating plan focused on produce, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy products, legumes, and moderate amounts of healthy fats can help. 

  • Get active. Aim for at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. Break down the 150 minutes into as many smaller sessions as needed.

  • Watch your weight. Reaching and staying at a healthy weight can help lower your risk for high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure (hypertension). 

  • Quit smoking. Not only does smoking hurt your lungs, but it also raises your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In turn, these can increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke.

  • Follow your provider’s recommendations about medicines. If he or she prescribes medicine to help you control your blood sugar, blood pressure, or cholesterol, take it as recommended. Be sure to see your provider for follow-up care.  

Online Medical Reviewer: McDonough, Brian, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2018
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.