WEDNESDAY, Feb. 2, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- A mother's history of stroke can help predict a daughter's chances of not only having a stroke but also her chances of having a heart attack, new research shows.
"Our new study shows that stroke in mothers is associated with heart attacks in daughters," said Dr. Amitava Banerjee, a clinical research associate at the Stroke Prevention Research Unit at the University of Oxford, in England.
In other words, a stroke in mothers or other first-degree relatives can help identify women at increased risk for heart attacks -- even if their mother has not had a heart attack.
The research, published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics, shows an association, but a cause-and-effect relationship has yet to be determined, Banerjee said.
Putting the research in perspective, he said: "We know that, in men and women, stroke or heart attack in the parents increases the risk of heart attack. Previous studies have not looked at these issues by sex of the parent or sex of the patient and have not looked in a 'prospective' way -- that is, they have not followed up a population over time."
In the new study, Banerjee and his colleagues evaluated 2,210 men and women who had either heart attacks or other coronary syndromes or strokes. Complete family histories were not available for all of them. But the researchers found that more than 24 percent of those who'd had heart attacks and angina -- and about the same percentage of patients who had had strokes or transient ischemic attacks (called TIAs, or mini-strokes) -- had a history of stroke in one or more first-degree relatives, such as their parents or siblings.
This indicates that stroke history in parents and siblings is as important to a person's risk for a heart attack as it is to stroke risk, according to Banerjee.
Maternal stroke was more common than paternal stroke history in women with heart attacks or unstable angina. Women heart patients were more than twice as likely to have a mother who'd had a stroke than a father who did. The same link was not found in men with heart problems, however.
Exactly why mothers' history of stroke seems to play a role in their daughters' heart attacks is not known. Banerjee said it's not possible to say whether environment or genes are playing the larger role in the mother-daughter association.
The link found between a mother's stroke history and a daughter's heart attack and stroke held even if the mother had only a stroke, with no heart attack history, Banerjee said.
Dr. Tatjana Rundek, an associate professor of neurology, epidemiology and public health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that the association between maternal stroke and a daughter's heart attack is relatively new but that it ties in with other research, including her own, that examines sex differences in cardiovascular risk.
In her own recent study, Rundek said, she found that genetic variations in genes involved in fat metabolism may have gender-dependent effects on plaque in arteries.
Research also has found that women have more systemic inflammation, she said. Inflammation is linked with buildup of fatty deposits in arteries.
What the new findings mean for women whose mothers had a stroke, Rundek said, is the need to "understand your own personal risk of stroke or heart attack." Be sure you know your numbers -- blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol levels, she said, and change behaviors to improve the numbers if need be.
Banerjee added that "women whose mothers have had stroke -- particularly before the age of 65 -- should have their blood pressure and cholesterol checked, and think about lifestyle factors such as smoking more than women without family history of stroke."
The American Stroke Association has more about risk factors for stroke.