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Parents' history can affect your heart risk
January 25th, 2011
12:43 PM ET

Parents' history can affect your heart risk

Children can learn a lot from their parents, including whether they may someday have a heart attack, concludes a new multinational study to be published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Researchers examined data collected between February 1999 and March 2003 as part of the INTERHEART study to examine whether having a parental history of myocardial infarction, commonly known as a heart attack, increased a person's risk of having the same experience.

After reviewing data for more than 20,000 participants, the researchers concluded not only that parental history nearly doubled a person's risk of future heart disease, but they also found that the risk was there even after all other known factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, low fruit and vegetable consumption, or lack of physical activity were accounted for.

"Heart attack risk has many important environmental as well as genetic components," said Dr. Ralph L. Sacco, president of the American Heart Association and chairman of the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami.

"Often it's a combination...with those with genetic risk factors in a poor environment putting them at increased risk of cardiovascular disease."

Don't panic, though- being genetically predisposed to heart disease does not equal any sort of guarantee that your parents' fate will someday be your own.  According to Sacco, it just means that patients with a parental history of heart disease need to be more diligent about managing their symptoms.

"This is sort of a call to action," said Sacco. "We want everybody of course to be in excellent cardiovascular health but those who have genetic risk have to work harder."

One way to do that may be cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as stress management. Researchers in Sweden followed more than 300 men and women who had survived a previous heart attack. 170 people in the group were treated with standard care, while 192 people had their care augmented by a stress management program.

According to the study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the patients in the stress management program had 45% fewer recurrent heart attacks. They also had a 41% lower rate of both fatal and non-fatal heart events.

"Both studies provide helpful information about ways to reduce the risk of heart attacks," said Sacco.

"Those who are at high risk with their parental history need to more effectively manage risk factors and those who have already had a heart attack may need to get aggressive cognitive behavioral therapy and manage their stress to reduce recurrent events."

The American Heart Association has set seven steps to managing risk factors. The organization recently launched "Life's Simple 7" detailing seven risk factors everyone should follow for ideal cardiovascular health.  Sacco said managing blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels, while being active, quitting smoking, managing weight and eating a proper diet will help anyone reduce the risk of heart disease.


soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Becky

    Both of my parents died from heart attacks, but they were both heavy smokers. I do not smoke, nor do my brother or sister. Does that lower our risk

    January 25, 2011 at 22:28 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Me

      It lowers it slightly... however, parental age when first heart attack occured... for example if your parents were under age 60 if male and under 65 if female you have a much higher risk even if you don't smoke. Not smoking helps... but with genetic factors, it would be best to watch your diet and exercise regularly. Be active at least an hour per day most days of the week, maintain a healthy weight (overweight or underweight can both increase your risks)... also watch your cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and blood pressure. With increased genetic risk, there can also be genetic blood clotting factors that may increase the chance of blood clots causing heart attack or stroke (genetic thrombophilia). Depending upon the cause of your parents heart attacks, whether they were caused by blood clots or by build up of plaque from elevated cholesterol, it would help your doctor check you for genetic conditions that might be increasing your risk.

      January 26, 2011 at 12:18 | Report abuse |
  2. Buckhippo

    Yes, it helps but you also need your cholesterol checked. smoking adds a significant added risk factor. You can make yourself have a lower risk through proper eating, exercise, monitor your cholesterol (150 or less total, LDL less than 80 ideally), and no cigarettes ever. Also, diabetes increases your risk factor too. So stay fit!

    January 25, 2011 at 23:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. ABC MD

    Yes !, It definitely does. Smoking is major risk factor for heart attack. As article mentions, you can further lower your risk by life style modification and making sure that blood pressure and blood sugar are followed.

    January 25, 2011 at 23:47 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Me

      Sound advice, however you failed to mention that with two parents dead of heart attacks... there may be a very strong genetic component, possibly for genetic thrombophilia or familial hyperlipidemia and hypercholesterolemia. Not smoking does lower the risk... however... genetic factors also need to be monitored as well as managing weight and exercise levels.

      January 26, 2011 at 12:37 | Report abuse |
  4. Chrysta E. Banks

    Please send me by email to refer my friend's e-mail.. I am deaf senior citizens in DC Thanks

    January 26, 2011 at 01:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Eaton Butts

    NOOooooo. That cant be true.

    January 26, 2011 at 08:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Tina

    Hmm. so am I doomed because both my parents smoked like chimneys, my mother drank like a fish and they both died very young. I don't really know but I don't smoke and I drink only once in a while and exercise daily, does that mean I am still at a high risk because they lived foolishly?

    January 26, 2011 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Donna

      You need to get some lab tests so you know where you are. Some people smoke like chimneys and live into their 80s.

      January 26, 2011 at 14:32 | Report abuse |
  7. McGuffin

    Duh? Family history of ischemic heart disease has been a known risk factor for decades. The study is all well and good to provide additional evidence, particularly given the large sample size, but why is this making the news?

    January 26, 2011 at 15:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. razi

    interesting article. one may also use such quick tools like a heart risk calculator to asses the healthiness of heart based on a few simple parameters http://www.facebook.com/Religare.Wellness.Ltd

    September 29, 2011 at 12:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. berzTon

    Appreciate you sharing, great article.Really thank you! ozza

    October 12, 2014 at 07:24 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.