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Family History's Role in Heart Attack and Stroke

Study Shows Family History Is a Stronger Predictor of Heart Attack Than Stroke

Family History of Heart Attacks vs. Strokes continued...

However, he says, family history of stroke increases the risk of stroke, but the link is not as strong as for heart attack.

He also found a ''clustering" effect for heart attack risk. "The more patients and siblings [within a family] are affected, the greater the risk," he says. That did not hold for stroke risk.

Exactly why a family history of heart attack seems to carry more risk is not known for sure, Banerjee says.

He speculates that it could be due to genetic influences. It could also be due to the interaction of genes and environment or early life environmental factors.

Advice Remains Same: Exercise, Eat Right, Don't Smoke

The findings are intriguing, says Ralph Sacco, MD, chair of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and immediate past president of the American Heart Association. He reviewed the findings for WebMD.

However, the overall population from the Oxford study is 94% white. So he says it is unclear whether the findings would apply to U.S. Hispanics and African-Americans.

The findings seem to confirm what some have thought all along, he says, ''that heart disease may be a little bit more linked to heredity than stroke."

Sacco suspects this may be because stroke can originate from a variety of causes. For instance, some are triggered by hardening of the arteries. The irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation can also lead to stroke.

The finding does not change lifestyle advice, Sacco says.

It is also important, he says, to remember that genetics is not the whole story. "Both stroke and heart attack are still under a lot of environmental and behavioral control," he says.

"The majority of strokes and heart attacks are still associated with [eating] a poor diet, being overweight, smoking, and not being physically active," he says.

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