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When it comes to heart disease, family history matters

  • Matt Hanley's worries about heart disease began when he was in college. His grandfather died of a heart attack at age 45, and his dad had coped with heart disease for years, starting with a heart attack at age 32.

    That family history made Hanley anxious - and with good reason, said Thomas Knickelbine, MD, director of the Preventive Cardiology Clinic at Minneapolis Heart Institute®.

    Early heart disease in a parent, brother or sister clearly increases your risk. "The risk also increases if you have second-degree relatives like aunts, uncles or grandparents with early heart disease," said Knickelbine.

    Taking action at age 30

    About 10 years ago, Hanley realized that he needed to get serious about his health. He quit smoking, improved his diet, exercised more, and began taking medicine to reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. Several years later, his doctor suggested he have a calcium scoring test at Minneapolis Heart Institute®'s HeartScan Minnesota. It showed significant calcium deposits in his arteries, a sign of coronary artery disease.

    "This is an insidious disease," said Knickelbine. "When you have angina (chest pain) or a heart attack, the plaque build-up in the artery has probably been progressing for five to 10 years."

    Now 39, Hanley has learned to be proactive in reducing his risks. With a wife and two young children to think about, he has enlisted a medical team he trusts and is attacking the disease from every possible angle.

    Using heart specialists to find answers

    Last year he sought the advice of John Lesser, MD, a cardiologist at Minneapolis Heart Institute®. After reviewing Hanley's family and personal medical history, Lesser ordered an advanced lipid profile. The test showed something unusual: The particles of bad cholesterol in Hanley's blood are smaller and heavier than normal, making it easier for them slow down and settle in a blood vessel instead of passing through.

    Lesser referred Hanley to the Preventive Cardiology Clinic for follow-up care. "He thought I would be a great candidate for the program because they are very proactive in trying to understand and monitor your disease," Hanley said.

    Now Hanley meets regularly with Sandy Oberembt, PA, a physician assistant in the Preventive Cardiology Clinic, who has continued to fine-tune his medicines in consultation with a preventive cardiologist, and with a nutritionist, who is helping him with diet and nutrition. He has lost 25 pounds and has also worked with a therapist on stress management.

    "The more information I have about my disease, the less anxious I am," said Hanley. "Like anyone else, I'm not perfect. But I've learned that the choices you make when you are young will greatly affect you as you get older."

  • Matt Hanley

    Hanley's exercise routine includes working out at home, biking and regular walks with his golden retriever, Tejas.