If Mom or Dad Had Heart Disease, Your Risk Is Doubled

Filed under: In The News, Health

Knowing your family's medical history can help prevent heart disease.

Knowing your family's medical history can help prevent heart disease. Credit: Corbis

"As for you, my galvanized friend, you want a heart. You don't know how lucky you are not to have one. Hearts will never be practical until they can be made unbreakable." -- The Great and Powerful Oz

Listen to the Wizard, Tin Man. He knows what he's talking about. Where he comes from, there are people who have diseases with names like congestive heart failure, aortic valve stenosis, cardiomyopathy, angina pectoris and coronary artery disease.

Their hearts are no bigger than yours. But they have one thing you haven't got: A family medical history of heart disease.

Heart disease, it seems, is a family curse. If just one of your parents had it, it doubles the risk you'll get it, too. Ethnicity, national origin -- none of that matters. Eating more tofu might help. A little. Still, there's not much you can do. It's in the genes.

So says the INTERHEART study, led by Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. Reuters news service reports the study involved 12,000 patients in 52 countries on every continent except Antarctica.

The patients were being treated for their first heart attacks somewhere between 1999 to 2003. Another group of 15,000 people of the same age and sex with no history of heart disease were used for comparison.

Researchers found about 18 percent of study patients who had suffered a heart attack also had a parent with a history of heart attack, compared to 12 percent of participants without heart disease. The findings are published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

"We know that family history represents many things," Dr. Themistocles Assimes of the Stanford University School of Medicine, the author of an editorial accompanying the study, tells Reuters. "A lot of those things are genetic. Some are almost certainly environmental (factors) that we don't know about that we can't measure.

"The excess risk associated with family history is about the same everywhere. Whatever those things are that are unknown, they average out to be about the same in terms of increasing risk," he adds.

Knowing more about risk factors helps doctors in different parts of the world prevent heart disease in their patients, Dr. Erin Michos, a cardiologist at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, who was not involved in the study, tells Reuters.

"A family history is a very cheap, simple thing to (find out about)," Michos tells the news service. "You don't have to measure anything. There's no lab tests."

Heart disease kills more than 7 million people every year. While previous studies have shown a link between a family history and the risk of heart disease, Reuters reports, this is the first study to show the effect of family history globally across cultural lines.

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