Those family members might undergo screening to detect left main coronary artery problems, he said, although it is not clear whether the chance of preventing heart disease is high enough to justify the costs and risks of screening.
But the German studies do not necessarily show that problems with the left main coronary artery gives relatives any more reason be concerned, said Dr. Dhananjay Vaidya, an assistant professor of internal medicine at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Because a family history of heart disease is a known risk factor for heart trouble, "brothers and sisters of someone with any heart disease should take it seriously," said Vaidya, who is also a member of the team conducting the Sibling Family Heart Study.
The Sibling Family Heart Study has enrolled more than 700 family members of people treated for heart attacks in Baltimore hospitals. Researchers are following them to detect "whether persons present with the same kind of heart disease as their close relatives," Vaidya said.
There is particular reason to worry when the left main coronary artery is affected, since it supplies about two-thirds of the heart's blood flow, Vaidya said. But the German studies showed that this was a relatively rare condition, and the data on its heritability was not conclusive, he said.
It's possible that the Baltimore study may now be changed slightly "to determine if there is something biologically special about left main coronary artery disease," Vaidya said.
The role of family history in the various risk factors for heart disease is explained by the American Heart Association.
SOURCES: Heribert Schunkert, M.D., head, cardiology, University of Luebeck, Germany; Dhananjay Vaidya, M.D., assistant professor, interna
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