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Heart Health

18 September 2019

Your lifestyle may explain premature heart disease better than your genetics

A new study has shown that it is in fact your lifestyle and not necessarily your genetics that explains most premature heart disease.

There are many factors that play a role in heart health and preventing heart disease.

Factors such as physical inactivity, high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes play a greater role than genetics in many young patients with heart disease, according to research presented at the ESC Congress 2019.

Findings showed that healthy behaviours should be a high priority in reducing heart disease, even for people with a family history of early onset. 

The study enrolled a total of 1 075 patients under the age of 50, of whom 555 suffered from coronary artery disease (premature CAD). Specific conditions looked at were stable angina, heart attack and unstable angina. The average age was 45 years old and 87% were men.

Factors assessed

Risk factor genetics and levels were then compared to a control group consisting of 520 healthy participants (of which, the average age was 44 and 86% were men). Both sets of participants were recruited from the Genes in Madeira and Coronary Disease (GENEMACOR) database.

There were five modifiable factors which were assessed:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes

73% of patients had at least three of the risk factors compared to 31% of the control group. The likelihood of developing CAD increased with each additional risk factor in both groups. It was estimated that the probability of CAD respectively was:

  • 3 times higher with 1 risk factor
  • 7 times higher with 2 risk factors
  • 24 times higher with 3 or more risk factors

Genetics – an important factor, but not an excuse

Dr Joao A. Sousa of Funchal hospital on the island of Madeira said, "Genetics are an important contributor to premature heart disease but should not be used as an excuse to say it's inevitable."

He added, "In our clinical practice, we often hear young patients with premature heart disease 'seek shelter' and explanations in their genetics/family history.

"However, when we look at the data in our study, these young patients were frequently smokers, physically inactive, with high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure – all of which can be changed."

He concluded: "Our study provides strong evidence that people with a family history of premature heart disease should adopt healthy lifestyles, since their poor behaviours may be a greater contributor to heart disease than their genetics.

"That means quitting smoking, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and getting blood pressure and alcohol levels checked."

Image credit: iStock