Heart Health

24 August 2012

Family history predicts heart risk

Patients with a first- or second-degree relative who died of heart disease before age 60 have a higher risk of cardiac problems themselves.

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Patients with a first- or second-degree relative who died of heart disease before age 60 have a higher risk of cardiac problems themselves, a large study from Denmark confirms.

In the new study of four million Danish citizens followed for three decades, researchers found people with a parent or sibling who died young of heart problems were roughly twice as likely as others to be diagnosed with coronary heart disease before age 50.

They also had double the risk of ventricular arrhythmia.

None of that means genes are heart disease destiny, noted Dr Amit Khera, a preventive cardiologist who was not involved in the research.

"Just because you're at elevated risk does not mean you're going to have a heart attack," said Dr Khera, who directs the preventative cardiology program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. But, he said, the findings underscore the importance of family history - starting at a young age.

How the study was done

The study, conducted by researchers at the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen, involved people born after 1949. Between 1978 and 2008, almost 130 000 of them were diagnosed with some form of cardiovascular disease before age 50.

Those odds were heightened when a first-degree relative had died of heart problems before age 60, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

But those risks were also elevated when a second-degree relative. The risk of coronary heart disease, for example, was 43% higher in people with one second-degree relative who had died before age 60.

"This study tells us that a grandparent's history is meaningful, too," Dr Khera said.

And the more relatives who died young, the greater the risks. When two or more first-degree relatives had died of heart disease before age 60, a person's own risk of early heart disease rose five-fold.

"As with other chronic diseases, people should try to find out what they can about their family history," Dr Mattis Flyvholm Ranthe, the lead researcher on the study, said in an email.

Both Dr Ranthe and Dr Khera urge doctors to dig deeper into patients' family histories.

(Reuters Health, August 2012)

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