Genetics is a big factor in determining your likelihood of future heart disease. When it comes to the family tree, you're most at risk if a direct relative (a parent or sibling) has had a heart attack. If your father or brother has had one before the age of 45 -- or if your mother or sister has had one before the age of 55 -- you should be especially concerned [source: Haynes]. A history of heart disease in your extended family is a factor as well.
Your genes may make you more susceptible to heart disease, but they can also make you more prone to contributing factors such as obesity, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. African-Americans tend to have higher blood pressure, which contributes to heart disease [source: AHA]. In fact, studies have shown that African-Americans are twice as likely to die of heart disease than Caucasians [source: Med Care]. Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, certain Asian ethnicities and Hispanics are also at higher risk.
The way you were raised (take it up with your shrink) may play a role as well, especially where diet, smoking and drinking are concerned. Regardless, you must wrestle those genies back into the genetic bottle by trying extra hard to keep excess pounds off and living a healthy lifestyle.
Next we'll talk about the heart disease factor that makes this crazy world go around: gender.