Does your brother or sister have heart disease? That may be a better predictor of whether you are at risk than your parents' health history.
A study of nearly 8,500 healthy adults in Ohio found that people were 2.5 to three times more likely to have coronary atherosclerosis -- heart and artery disease -- if a brother or sister had already been diagnosed with heart disease.
There was a correlation with parents too, but much less so, according to the report in last week's issue of the journal Circulation.
"Family history has for years been recognized as a risk factor in predicting a person's chance for developing coronary heart disease early on in life -- separate from better-known risk factors, such as HDL ['good'] and LDL ['bad'] cholesterol levels, blood pressure, smoking and age," said cardiologist Dr. Roger Blumenthal, who led the study.
"But we never knew if there was a difference between sibling and parental histories of early heart disease in terms of a given individual's risk of developing early atherosclerosis."
The Johns Hopkins team used electron-beam tomography, a form of computed tomography or CAT scans, to look for buildups of calcium in the coronary artery, a main artery leading to the heart. This is an early signal of heart disease.
People whose brother or sister had suffered a heart attack or who needed bypass surgery or angioplasty were nearly four times more likely to have advanced levels of atherosclerosis than those with no family history of heart disease.
People whose parents, but not siblings, had heart disease were about twice as likely to have advanced levels of coronary calcium.