Science - December 15, 2011

Heart attack in parents predicts risk for children

Children whose parents had a heart attack before age seventy have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

The control room of an operating theatre.
These results support earlier research showing a correlation with parents who had heart problems at a young age. This discovery was made by Ineke van Dis, administrative officer at the Dutch Heart Association and researcher in the Department of Human Biology and RIVM, through monitoring a large number of test subjects for ten years after they had undergone a medical check-up. She will receive her PhD on Wednesday 14 December for predicting the risks of cardiovascular diseases.
For her research, Van Dis used the MORGEN-study by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). More than 23,000 people were involved in this study between 1993 and 1997. They gave blood and provided information about their lifestyle and medical family history. Ten thousand of them were between the ages of 40 and 65 during the study. Van Dis looked at how many of them were hospitalized or died of cardiovascular diseases within the ten subsequent years.
Unlucky ones
The test subjects without a family history appeared to have a 7.8 percent chance of developing cardiovascular diseases. For the test subjects with an afflicted father or mother, this percentage went up to 9.8 and 10.7 respectively. The unlucky ones with two afflicted or deceased parents had a 12 percent risk. Furthermore, the younger the parents were when they had a heart attack, the higher the risk factor was for their children.
‘A family history of heart attacks appears to be an independent risk factor,' says Van Dis. These results are consistent with the conclusions of earlier research, even though these studies only showed a link with cardiovascular diseases at a young age. New research is needed to find out if this factor is the result of genes or the lifestyle in which people are brought up, or a combination of both.
In addition, Van Dis looked into whether family history information about heart attacks, when added to other known risk factors, is a better predictor of cardiovascular diseases. This hardly seemed to be the case if information about cholesterol, smoking habits and blood pressure was already known.
Van Dis carried out her research to construct better risk charts. Doctors use these to determine who is eligible for lifestyle advice and preventive medication.

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