January 25th, 2011
12:43 PM ET
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.
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