Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Teachable moment

Heart Beat

Teachable moment

What should family members do after a brother, sister, or parent has what doctors call a "premature" heart attack (one before age 55 in a man or 60 in a woman)? Provide support, for sure. After that, though, each family member should talk with a doctor to gauge his or her own cardiac risks. That's what Scottish researchers propose in the Sept. 8, 2007 issue of the medical journal BMJ.

Heart disease tends to run in families. In a national study of more than 130,000 families, those having one or more members with heart disease represented only 14% of the general population but accounted for a staggering 70% of premature heart attacks and 86% of early strokes. How much of this is due to shared genes and how much to shared lifestyles or habits isn't yet known.

While a heart attack or stroke at any age is frightening, it is even more so when it strikes early. The Scottish researchers suggest that these events can be powerful motivators for family members to see a doctor. By doing that, and then making changes to fight heart disease, up to half of premature heart attacks could be prevented, the Scottish researchers estimated.

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