Mothers Likely to Pass Heart Disease to Children
Mothers pass on much that is good to their children, but a new study shows there is one gift most would rather not receive - heart disease.
A woman with a strong history of cardiovascular problems is much more likely to pass that legacy on to her children than a father with the same medical history, researchers report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
In fact, "maternal history of coronary heart disease was almost always related to higher risk in both sons and daughters," says study lead author Dr. Kristina Sundquist, an expert at the Karolinska Institute's Center for Family Medicine in Stockholm.
"If some patients are at a higher familial risk, then they might need more aggressive treatment for other risk factors," explains Dr. Sundquist.
Dr. Sundquist's team used government medical records to track heart disease, hospital admissions, and cardiac-related deaths among all Swedish men and women born after 1932, as well available health data on their parents.
The authors identified about 11,000 men and 3,300 women who had a mother and/or a father with heart disease. Then the scientists compared the medical histories of these individuals with those of children with no parental history of heart disease.
Dr. Sundquist reports that the highest heart risk was borne by individuals whose parents had both suffered heart disease.
Men with this double-parent history were at twice the risk of developing heart disease than men with no parental history of cardiovascular trouble.
Women whose mother and father both suffered from heart disease had an 82 percent higher risk for heart disease compared to women without such histories.
When only one parent had coped with heart disease, it was clearly the mother that passed on the most significant risk to her offspring.
Men and women had a 55 percent and 43 percent higher risk for heart disease, respectively, if their mother had it, too, compared to individuals without this type of maternal history of heart disease.
By contrast, men and women whose fathers had heart disease were at a 41 and 17 percent higher risk, respectively, for developing the problem themselves.
The researchers also found that people with parents who experienced an early onset of heart disease - before the age of 55 in the case of men or age 65 in the case of women - were nearly three times more likely to develop the illness themselves.
Dr. Sundquist says it is not yet clear why mothers are more likely to pass on cardiovascular risk to their kids.
But she offers several possible explanations, including genetic mutation patterns that pass through the maternal line or conditions that might affect the fetus before birth.
These would include factors such as maternal smoking and high blood pressure during pregnancy, both of which have been linked to low birth weight in prior studies.
The home environment might play a role, as well. According to Dr. Sundquist, children typically spend more time with mothers than fathers as they grow, so they may be more likely to pick up unhealthy habits from moms.
This might translate into greater disease risk for children of "mothers [who] are more likely to smoke, or have poor dietary behavior, and lack physical activity," notes Dr. Sundquist.
Whatever the explanation, she advises that patients with this type of high-risk family background get screened for signs of heart disease.
"The implication is that clinical attention should be given to patients whose mothers or fathers had coronary heart disease, but special attention should be given if both parents had coronary heart disease, if mothers had coronary heart disease, or if either had premature coronary heart disease," explains Dr. Sundquist.
Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association, says that while the study findings did not surprise her, the take-home message was nonetheless important.
"First of all, this illustrates that our moms' health matters," says Dr. Goldberg, who is chief of women's cardiac care at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"And I think what's very important is that as part of any standard medical history you should be able to answer the questions about your family's history of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, or stroke, since these diseases run in families," she says.
Always consult your physician for more information.
Coronary heart disease, or coronary artery disease (CAD), is characterized by the accumulation of fatty deposits along the innermost layer of the coronary arteries.
The fatty deposits may develop in childhood and continue to thicken and enlarge throughout the life span.
This thickening, called atherosclerosis, narrows the arteries and can decrease or block the flow of blood to the heart.
Nearly 13 million Americans suffer from coronary artery disease - the number one killer of both men and women in the US.
Risk factors for CAD often include:
- high LDL cholesterol, high triglycerides levels, and reduced HDL cholesterol
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- physical inactivity
- high saturated fat diet
Controlling risk factors is the key to preventing illness and death from CAD.
The symptoms of coronary heart disease will depend on the severity of the disease.
Some persons with CAD have no symptoms, some have episodes of mild chest pain or angina, and some have more severe chest pain.
If too little oxygenated blood reaches the heart, a person will experience chest pain called angina.
When the blood supply is completely cut off, the result is a heart attack, and the heart muscle begins to die.
Some persons may have a heart attack and never recognize the symptoms. This is called a "silent" heart attack.
When symptoms are present, each person may experience them differently.
Symptoms of coronary artery disease may include:
- heaviness, tightness, pressure, and/or pain in the chest - behind the breastbone
- pain radiating in the arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, and/or back
- shortness of breath
- weakness and fatigue
Always consult your physician for more information.