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Family history may not affect stroke risk

July 26, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's long been known that people can inherit tendencies toward certain illnesses, but now, a new study shows a sharp distinction in what role genes play in two of the most common ailments: heart attack and stroke.

A 39-year-old woman from Hawthorne endured a massive stroke a couple months ago.

"I could not talk, and my whole right side was just numb," she said.

The biggest concern on her mind was who was going to take care of her young son. She's a single parent with a 12-year-old boy.

Thanks to early intervention, she is recovering from her stroke extraordinarily well, and according to new research, she can put her mind at ease regarding her son's health.

A new report suggests the genetic risk of a child whose parent had a stroke also having a stroke in his or her lifetime is nearly nonexistent.

The study in the journal Circulation says stroke and heart attack are two very different kinds of cardiovascular events.

While family history is a top risk factor for heart attacks, the same does not hold true for strokes.

The authors of the study focused on 1,600 people who had suffered either a heart attack or a stroke. They found the risk of heart attack was 48 percent greater if one parent had a heart attack and almost 600 percent greater if both parents had one.

In striking contrast, parental stroke did not affect the patients' risk of stroke.

"This was a big surprise," said Dr. Gerald Pohost of Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

Pohost says it's far too early to start changing how doctors interpret a patient's family history until more research is done.

The authors think doctors shouldn't lump a patient's family history of stroke and heart attack together and in the future, genetic studies of stroke may not be critical to the field.

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