One Sibling's Heart Disease Increases Risk for Remaining Siblings
Having a sibling with a history of cardiovascular disease carries the same or greater risk as having a parent with a history of the disease, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The report comes from the long-standing Framingham Heart Study conducted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Personal risk of having a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack, stroke, or peripheral artery disease, may be raised by as much as 45 percent in middle-aged people whose brother or sister has had such an event.
Even when data was adjusted for the fact that siblings may have similar lifestyle-related risk factors and may be of similar ages, the risk associated with having a sibling with cardiovascular disease remained high.
Physicians determine relative risk for cardiovascular disease by evaluating known risk factors: family history of heart disease, age, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, overweight, current or former smoking, physical inactivity, and diabetes.
While having a parent or sibling with heart disease has long been suggested to increase risk, this study shows that having a sibling with heart disease is a significant risk factor independent of other measures.
“This study illustrates that even people who are not at high risk based on their own health status should talk to their doctors about the history of heart disease in their families, among siblings as well as parents, and ask what they can do to prevent a heart attack or stroke,” says Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, NHLBI director.
Researchers evaluated siblings from among 1,188 men and 1,287 women, all participants in the Framingham Heart Study.
Participants were at least 30 years old at the time of a baseline examination, and were followed for eight years for the occurrence of a cardiovascular disease event.
“We determined that one’s risk from a sibling with a cardiovascular disease event remains elevated after taking into account age and other risk factors that may cluster within families," says Dr. Joanne Murabito, of Boston University and the study’s lead author.
"The risk may be even higher than the risk related to having a parent with cardiovascular disease,” she says.
“The risk from a sibling with cardiovascular disease is significant even in persons with borderline elevated levels of total cholesterol, levels at which physicians are often undecided about medication treatment,” notes Dr. Murabito.
The Framingham Study is one of the first studies to take an independent, unbiased look at sibling risk.
Unlike other studies of family history, which relied on often-unreliable participant recall, this study evaluated independent data from families within the 57-year-long observational study.
Participants in this evaluation were from the study’s Offspring group, the adult children of the original participants who first enrolled in the 1940s and 1950s.
“Our findings suggests that taking an accurate family history should be a crucial part of every physician’s method of assessing heart disease risk, and should go beyond a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question about the presence of disease in the family,” says Dr. Murabito.
Patients should make the effort to collect medical history information from their siblings and parents and make sure to inform their siblings if they have a cardiovascular disease event such as a heart attack or stroke, she adds.
“We believe that the reasons behind the strong association of risk between siblings are environmental as well as genetic," says Dr. Christopher O’Donnell, associate director of the NHLBI Framingham Heart Study and the study senior author.
"In addition to sharing the same genetic makeup, siblings may share similar dietary habits and physical activity patterns in their early years while living in the same household," says Dr. O'Donnell. "These habits may continue on into adulthood when genetic factors begin to manifest.”
Dr. O'Donnell adds, “While you can’t control your family history, there are many things you can do to control your risk for heart disease, including keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar under control, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking, and getting regular physical activity."
Always consult your physician for more information.
Each year, heart disease is at the top of the list of the country's most serious health problems.
In fact, statistics show that cardiovascular disease is America's leading health problem, and the leading cause of death.
Consider the most recent statistics released by the American Heart Association (AHA):
At least 70 million people in this country suffer from some form of heart disease.
One person in five suffers from some form of cardiovascular disease. This includes high blood pressure - 65 million; coronary heart disease - 13.2 million; stroke - 5.4 million; congenital cardiovascular defects - 1 million; and congestive heart failure - 4.9 million.
Rheumatic heart disease/rheumatic fever kills almost 3,500 Americans each year.
Almost one out of every 2.6 deaths result from cardiovascular disease.
More than 2,600 Americans die of cardiovascular disease each day, an average of one death every 34 seconds.
Cardiovascular disease is leading cause of death with cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, accidents, diabetes mellitus, and flu/pneumonia following.
It is a myth that heart disease is a man's disease. In fact, cardiovascular diseases are the number one killer of women (and men). These diseases currently claim the lives of more than one-half million women every year.
About one-third of cardiovascular disease deaths occurred prematurely (before age 77, the approximate average life expectancy in that year).
On average, someone in the US suffers a stroke every 45 seconds; someone dies every 3 minutes from stroke.
Stroke is a leading cause of serious, long-term disability that accounts for more than half of all patients hospitalized for a neurological disease.
Stroke deaths have been increasing in recent years.
Always consult your physician for more information.
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American College of Cardiology
American Heart Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Choose To Move, AHA
Framingham Heart Study
Journal of the American Medical Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
National Library of Medicine
National Women's Health Information Center
US Health and Human Services