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Family history is one of the heart disease risk factors that we aren’t able to change. Unfortunately, if you have a first-degree relative with early coronary artery disease, also referred to simply as heart disease, then it’s generally accepted that you have a greater risk of developing heart disease as well.
First-degree relatives include close family members such as parents, children, or siblings. Premature familial heart disease -- younger than 55 in men and 65 in women -- also increases your risk of developing heart disease.
Family history is particularly important since women with a familial history of heart disease are three times more likely to suffer a heart attack and five times more likely to die from heart disease. Heart disease generally develops about ten years earlier in men than in women.
Because other heart disease risk factors, such as hypertension and obesity, also run in families, it’s sometimes difficult to determine exactly how family influences the development of heart disease independent of other related risk factors.
Researchers at the University of Leicester in England have come closer to unlocking how family history influences the development of heart disease.
Led by principal investigator Dr. Maciej Tomaszewski, senior university lecturer in cardiovascular science, researchers examined DNA from more than 3,200 participants.
All participants were male and were part of either the British Heart Foundation Family Heart Study (BHF-FHS), West of Scotland Coronary Prevention Study (WOSCOPS), or the Cardiogenics Study. Researchers found that the majority – 90 percent – all possessed a variation on the male Y chromosome that fell into one of two groups: haplogroup I or haplogroup R1b1b2.
Those with a Y chromosome variation falling into haplogroup I were found to have a 50 percent greater incident of heart disease. Approximately 20 percent of those tested fell into the haplogroup I category.
The Y chromosome is generally linked to the determination of sex. One of the interesting findings of the study is the discovery relating to its role in the development of heart disease.