Friday, 28 April 2006 00:00

Moms Most Likely to Pass Heart Disease on to Kids

FRIDAY, April 28 (HealthDay News) -- Mothers pass on much that is good to their children, but a new study shows there's one gift most would rather not receive -- heart disease.

A woman with a strong history of cardiovascular trouble is much more likely to pass that legacy on to her kids than a father with the same medical history, Swedish researchers report.

In fact, "maternal history of coronary heart disease was almost always related to higher risk in both sons and daughters," said study lead author Dr. Kristina Sundquist, an assistant professor at the Karolinska Institute's Center for Family Medicine in Stockholm.

Her team's preliminary data on the subject were presented Thursday at a special American Medical Association briefing in New York City. The study will also appear in the June issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"If some patients are at a higher familial risk, then they might need more aggressive treatment for other risk factors," Sundquist told reporters.

Her team used government medical records to track heart disease, hospital admissions, and cardiac-related deaths among all Swedish men and women born after 1932, as well available health data on their parents.

The authors identified nearly 11,000 men and just under 3,300 women who had a mother and/or a father with heart disease. Then the scientists compared the medical histories of these individuals with those of children with no parental history of heart disease.

Sundquist reported that the highest heart risk was borne by individuals whose parents had both suffered heart disease.

Men with this double-parent history were at twice the risk of developing heart disease than men with no parental history of cardiovascular trouble. Women whose mother and father both suffered from heart disease had an 82 percent higher risk for heart disease compared to women without such histories.

When only one parent had coped with heart disease, it was clearly the mother that passed on the most significant risk to her offspring.

Men and women had a 55 percent and 43 percent higher risk for heart disease, respectively, if their mother had had it too, compared to individuals without this type of maternal history of heart disease.

By contrast, men and women whose fathers had heart disease were at a 41 and 17 percent higher risk, respectively, for developing the problem themselves.

The researchers also found that people with parents who experienced an early onset of heart disease -- before the age of 55 in the case of men, or 65 in the case of women -- were nearly three times more likely to develop the illness themselves.

Sundquist said it's not yet clear why mothers are more likely to pass on cardiovascular risk to their kids.

But she offered several possible explanations, including genetic mutation patterns that pass through the maternal line or conditions that might affect the fetus in utero. These would include factors such as maternal smoking and high blood pressure during pregnancy, both of which have been linked to low birth weight in prior studies.

The home environment might play a role, as well: According to Sundquist, children typically spend more time with mothers than fathers as they grow, so they may be more likely to pick up unhealthy habits from moms.

This might translate into greater disease risk for children of "mothers [who] are more likely to smoke, or have poor dietary behavior, and lack physical activity," Sundquist noted.

Whatever the explanation, she advised that patients with this type of high-risk family background get screened for signs of heart disease.

"The implication is that clinical attention should be given to patients who mothers or fathers had coronary heart disease, but special attention should be given if both parents had coronary heart dis