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Heart Disease Patients' Families Should Be Screened

The risk for premature heart disease doubles for siblings of patients with the condition

FRIDAY, Sept. 7 (HealthDay News) -- Screening the families of premature heart disease patients could prevent more than one-third of premature heart attacks, according to the results of a study published in the Sept. 8 issue of BMJ.

Jill P. Pell, M.D., of the University of Glasgow in the United Kingdom, and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of data from previous studies on heart disease showing that first-degree relatives of premature heart disease patients, defined as heart disease occurring before 55 years of age in men and 60 in women, are also at increased risk.

The risk of myocardial infarction doubles for first-degree relatives, and in the United Kingdom one-fifth of hospitalizations for myocardial infarction are considered to be premature. Screening and treating first-degree relatives of premature heart disease patients could reduce hospital admission for myocardial infarction by more than one-third, the authors write.

The authors conclude that families of premature coronary heart disease patients are a prime target for family counseling, as is the case with inherited cancers. However, they caution that motivation to change may be an issue.

"Motivation to attend cancer screening is higher in people with a positive family history. However, familial risk in cardiovascular disease is complex, and overemphasizing the genetic component may reduce motivation to change lifestyle," the authors write.

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