TUESDAY, May 3, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- If your father died young, keep a close eye on your blood pressure.
That's the warning of a French study reported Monday at the American Heart Association annual conference on cardiovascular disease, epidemiology and prevention in Washington, D.C.
Researchers found the premature deaths of fathers -- but not mothers -- indicates an increased risk of high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke among both men and women.
"This is a useful additional marker for heart disease risk," said Dr. Mahmoud Zureik, a cardiologist at the French medical research institute INSERM, who presented the report.
The researchers measured blood pressure changes over a seven-year period among 1,047 healthy middle-aged men and women who were in their early 50s at the start of the study.
One quarter of them had high blood pressure -- hypertension -- when the study began. The hypertension prevalence was notably higher in those whose fathers had died before the age of 65 (34.9 percent) than in those whose fathers died between 65 and 80 (28.2 percent) and those whose fathers were older than 80 (20.2 percent) when they died.
By the end of the study, however, 26.6 percent of those who did not have hypertension at the start but whose fathers died young had developed hypertension. That compared to 17 percent of those whose fathers died between 65 and 80, and only 15.3 percent of those with fathers older than 80.
The study found that the correlation between hypertension and paternal longevity was reflected in increases in systolic pressure readings (the pressure exerted when the heart contracts) but not in diastolic pressure (resting heart) readings.
There was also no relationship between maternal longevity and either blood pressure measurement, Zureik said.
A spokesman for the AHA said the findings were not especially surprising.
"In general, people whose parents live longer tend to have lower blood pressure," said Dr. Daniel W. Jones, vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. "We've known that, but it's nice to have it documented."
The link to a father's longevity is easy to explain, Jones added. Cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack and stroke are the leading causes of death, and women get some protection against them from the hormone their bodies produce until the menopause.
"Since women are protected through menopause, the onset of cardiovascular disease is usually at a later age," Jones said. "It's not difficult to show that relationship."
Jones added that blood pressure is just one of several major risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Others include obesity, high blood cholesterol, smoking and physical inactivity.
Therefore, he said, "you could expand concern to those other risk factors" for anyone whose father died young.
For more on coronary risk factors, check with the American Heart Association.