Sibling and heart disease risk

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: April 25th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Cardiovascular disease, in the form of heart attacks and strokes, is responsible for four of every ten deaths, making it the leading cause of death in the United States. Scientists have known that family medical history can play a role in heart and vascular disease. New research, though, suggests that having a brother or sister with cardiovascular disease is a greater risk factor than having parents with the killer disease.

Scientists associated with the famous Framingham Heart Study report that middle-aged adults who have a sibling with cardiovascular disease have a forty-five percent increased risk of developing the disease themselves. Scientists have been tracking the cardiovascular health of some ten-thousand citizens of Framingham, Massachusetts since 1948.

Researchers examined nearly one-thousand middle-aged adults who had a sibling with cardiovascular disease. Some of these could have been susceptible to heart attacks and strokes even without affected siblings. But researchers identified more than a quarter of them who theoretically would not have been at risk if they hadn’t had brothers or sisters with the problem.

Researchers say sibling history may be a stronger predictor for cardiovascular disease than parental genetics, but more studies are needed to explain why. One factor worth studying is how a shared childhood environment with a brother or sister may contribute to increased sibling risk.

Further studies may reveal whether it’s warranted for doctors to incorporate sibling disease as well as parental disease as important risk factors in predicting and preventing cardiovascular problems.