What's Your Heart Disease Risk? Ask Mom
You may already know that your risk for some diseases goes up if a first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) has had the condition.
We know, for example, that your risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) goes up significantly if a first-degree male relative developed it before age 55 or a first-degree female relative developed it before age 65. This is known as premature or early coronary heart disease.
I had considered early CHD in either parent as having the same risk, but several recent studies report that premature CHD is a greater risk when it occurs in a mother than in a father.
For example, in a study from Sweden the risk of developing CHD was raised by 55 percent in men whose mothers had premature CHD, compared with 41 percent in those whose fathers had premature disease. The risks for women were increased by 43 percent and 17 percent for maternal and paternal premature CHD, respectively. When both parents had premature CHD, the risk more than doubled in men and increased by 82 percent in women. The impact of a bad family history was greatest in both men and women younger than 40 years.
The authors suggest that mothers pass on the greater risk because children spend more time with their mothers and may develop some of the environmental risk factors, such as cigarette smoking, that lead to premature CHD in the mothers. A better explanation, in my opinion, is that children may inherit specific genetic factors that can be transmitted only by the mother.
I haven\'t seen a report on the risks of having siblings versus parents with premature CHD, but it\'s quite clear that premature CHD in a brother or sister is a significant risk factor. It wouldn\'t surprise me if the risk associated with premature CHD in siblings is higher than the risk imparted by either parent. After all, children may inherit a combination of bad genetic traits from both parents.