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Heart Disease Health Center

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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...

In both cases, family history more strongly predicted heart attack than stroke in the siblings.

"People with heart attacks who had one parent with heart attack were 1.5 times more likely to have a sibling with heart attack than a heart attack patient who had no family history," Banerjee tells WebMD.

"Heart attack patients who had both parents with a heart attack history were nearly six times as likely to have a sibling with a heart attack as heart attack patients without a family history," he says.

"Family history of stroke didn't work in this way," he says.

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.

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