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Family History Has Strong Effect on Cardiac Risk
Date:9/7/2007

Screening, treatment of close relatives proposed

FRIDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Paying attention to the heart risk factors of close relatives of people with coronary heart disease could prevent more than 40 percent of early heart deaths, Scottish researchers say.

"If you want primary prevention, you have to go through the population to find groups with high risk," explained Dr. Jill Pell, professor of epidemiology at the University of Glasgow and lead author of a report in the Sept. 8 issue of the British Medical Journal.

"The 14 percent of families that have a history of coronary heart disease account for 72 percent of all premature deaths from heart disease," Pell pointed out.

That number comes from previous studies, which showed that 48 percent of major coronary events such as heart attacks occur in those families, Pell added. A brother or sister of someone who has a heart attack or other coronary event has twice the normal risk of having such an event, she said.

"So, instead of going through the entire population [for screening], we can go through the closest relatives of coronary disease patients," she reasoned.

Screening those close relatives and taking steps against risk factors such as high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure could prevent more than 80 percent of the early heart attacks that occur in Britain each year, the Glasgow group estimated.

They plan to put that belief to a practical test with a pilot project to screen siblings and children of coronary heart disease patients, select those with obvious risk factors, and then work to bring those factors under control, Pell said.

"We would aim at global risk, all the factors together -- smoking, cholesterol, diet, exercise," she said.

In theory, working physicians are aware of the importance of family history in predicting coronary risk, Pell said. And they know that they s
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