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Heart attack risk for women linked to maternal stroke history

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Women and heart attack

Women whose mother suffered a stroke are now found to be at higher risk for heart attack.

New findings also show daughters inherit maternal risk factors for stroke. A study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom is the first to show gender specific risk factors for coronary and cerebrovascular disease.

Previous studies have suggested a woman is at higher risk of heart attack before age 65 if their mother also experienced one at an early age.

The new study of more than 2200 patients showed females are more likely to have a heart attack if their mother, rather than their father, had a stroke. The participants were part of The Oxford Vascular Study.

“Our study results point towards sex-specific heritability of vascular disease across different arterial territories — namely coronary and cerebral artery territories,” said Amitava Banerjee, M.R.C.P., M.P.H., the study’s lead author and Clinical Research Associate in the Stroke Prevention Research Unit at the University of Oxford.

Banjeree explains the findings are important because women are more likely to die from attack than men even though the overall odds of having one are lower.

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The study included women who had stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), angina (heart related pain). Female patients who had heart attack or angina were more likely to have a first degree relative who had a stroke. The opposite was found for men.

Approximately 24 percent of heart attack, angina and stroke patients had a first degree relative, including siblings and parents, who had a stroke.

In the study, there was no association between family history of stroke and where dangerous plaque buildup might occur in offspring. The researchers say the tendency for developing a clot that could lead to stroke or heart attack is more of a general tendency.

They also note the risk of heart attack and stroke can't be attributed to genetics alone because of socioeconomic factors that can also influence the risk of vascular disease.

“Existing tools to predict heart attack risk ignore family history or include it simply as a yes or no question, without accounting for relevant details such as age, sex and type of disease in patients compared with their relatives,” Banerjee said. “Family history of cardiovascular disease is under-used in clinical practice.”

Banjeree also notes predicting heart attack risk in women is more difficult than men, making the findings important. Traditional risk factors like smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes don't affect women as clearly as men. The new study shows history of maternal stroke can help physician's gauge a woman's risk for heart attack.

American Heart Association
"Maternal stroke history tied to women’s heart attack"