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Blaming Your Sibling for Heart Problems?

You've probably heard that old saying, "It's all in the family," when it comes to blaming your parents for "inheriting" a physical condition you certainly could've prevented with the right combination of diet and exercise. Some feel differently, however, especially after a study found sibling history -- whether or not a brother or sister had early heart disease -- is a better predictor of a person's likelihood of developing coronary heart disease than parental history or traditional risk factor scoring.

In a study of some 8,500 Ohio adults (split evenly between those younger and older than 52) and all having no previous signs of heart disease, researchers found siblings were 2.5-3 times more likely to have a higher degree of coronary atherosclerosis if a brother or sister had already been diagnosed with heart disease. Parental history was also associated with subclinical atherosclerosis, although to a lesser extent than sibling history.

For the study, a family history of heart disease meant that a sibling or parent experienced a fatal or non-fatal heart attack or underwent some form of coronary revascularization, including bypass surgery, by age 55.

Signs of calcification and plaque build-up were observed in all groups, regardless of family history, but the burden was greatest among those patients who had a parental or sibling history of early heart disease, ranging from 36 percent to 78 percent, for both men and women.

Despite the evidence cited above, I strongly feel we give up a great deal of our personal power and responsibility when we conclude, for example, since all of our relatives who were overweight died from catastrophic health issues like heart attacks, cancer and strokes, we will too. In other words, if you believe some terrible will happen, chances are it probably will.

Science Blog October 5, 2004

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