The fact that hereditary factors play a role in coronary heart disease has long been known, but whether the increased risk is genetic or due to an unhealthy family environment has not been established so far.

A study, led by Professor Kristina Sundquist from the Center for Primary Health Care Research in Malmö, Sweden was published in the American Heart Journal, revealing that genes seem to play an important role.

Using data from the Swedish multi-generation register and the in-patient care register, the researchers evaluated 80,214 adopted men and women born in 1932 or later, who developed coronary heart disease between 1973 and 2008 and simultaneously compared them with both their biological and their adoptive parents.

The study revealed, that adopted individuals who had at least one biological parent with coronary heart disease had a 40-60% higher risk of developing it themselves than those in the control group. Individuals, whose adoptive parents suffered from coronary heart disease had no increased risk, even if both adoptive parents had the disease.

Professor Sundquist concludes:

“The results of our studies suggest that the risk of coronary heart disease is not transferred via an unhealthy lifestyle in the family, but rather via the genes. But that does not mean that one’s lifestyle is not a factor in one’s own risk of developing coronary heart disease.”

Coronary heart disease also known as CHD or coronary artery disease, is when the coronary arteries narrow – the coronary arteries supply oxygen and blood to the heart. Coronary heart disease is a major cause of illness and death in North America and Europe. In the USA, 17.6 million people had the condition in 2006 – during that year CHD caused the death of over 425,000 individuals in America.

CHD is usually caused by atherosclerosis – plaque builds up on the artery walls, restricting blood flow to the heart. There is a risk of a clot forming, which may block bloodflow to heart muscle. Coronary heart disease is a common cause of chest pain (angina pectoris), shortness of breath, myocardial infarction (heart attack) and some other symptoms.

Written by Petra Rattue