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North Carolina woman highlights role of family history in heart health

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(North Carolina News Service) A North Carolina woman is highlighting how important knowing your family history can be in matters of the heart.

According to the American Heart Association, the risk of heart disease itself, as well as some of the risk factors, are strongly linked to family history.

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Latoya Tyree-Brown, a North Carolina heart disease survivor, said her heart-health challenges began at age 32. She noticed unusual symptoms but doctors initially dismissed them as a side effect of her third pregnancy.

"During the pregnancy, I was having a lot of difficulties with breathing and gaining a lot of weight," Tyree-Brown recounted. "But I was being told by my doctor that it was due to being pregnant."

She recalled being told she had a heart murmur when attempting to play sports in school, a complication which escalated to congestive heart failure during labor. Today, her message to others is to communicate with your family about health issues, get regular medical checkups and seek support when you need it, for both physical and mental health.

After giving birth, Tyree-Brown also suffered a stroke, which left her in the hospital for a week. She pointed out the recovery process was arduous, involving speech therapy and taking a significant emotional toll.

"I was just sad, a lot of questions like, 'Why is this happening to me? What's going on?' Because I felt that I was physically fit and healthy," Tyree-Brown emphasized. "I was just wondering, like, 'How is all this stuff happening to me?'"

She learned her family history was a key factor. Her father had a heart transplant, though details were sparse due to his passing when she was young. Ultimately, she was diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure.

It prompted Tyree-Brown to undergo genetic testing for her children. Her middle daughter, now 19, tested positive for the same heart conditions and has received cardiology care since her early teens. Both mother and daughter now have defibrillators to manage their condition.

Tyree-Brown added her focus now is on the importance of self-advocacy and knowing how family history can affect you.

"You know your body the best, so even if other people are telling you that nothing's wrong or it might not be this or that, you should try to also get a second opinion," Tyree-Brown urged. "And just don't take 'no' for an answer."

American Heart Association data show heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.