TUESDAY, Feb. 15 (HealthDay News) — Some people inherit a tendency for fatty deposits to form in dangerous regions of their heart arteries, a new study shows.
Looking at angiograms — images of heart arteries — in 882 members of 401 families in whom heart disease was common, researchers found those deposits, called plaques, were most common at the points where a blockage shuts off blood flow to large regions of heart muscle.
Those points are the places where smaller blood vessels branch off from the main coronary artery, and the upper parts of the left and right coronary arteries, the researchers found.
“This is the first time anyone has looked at a larger number of angiograms in families with a history of heart disease,” said study leader Dr. Ulrich Broeckel, an assistant professor of medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “As far as we can determine, we are the first to do a large study of the genetic contribution to the location and pattern of coronary lesions.”
The new findings, if confirmed, could affect heart disease screening strategies for close relatives of coronary heart patients, the researchers said.
By studying the angiograms, “we get a very powerful picture of coronary disease,” said Broeckel.
The study results appear in the Feb. 15 issue of Circulation.
Cardiologists always include family history when they assess a person’s risk of heart disease, Broeckel said. The new study adds significantly to the knowledge of the role played by genetics in heart disease and, thus, to steps that can be taken to prevent it, he said.
“It can be family-based prevention, showing what families require more aggressive treatment,” he said. “There is a still a way to go, but that is the direction in which you want to go.”
People were chosen for the study if at least one close relative had a heart attack before age 60, and if a brother or sister had a heart attack at any age or had required a procedure to reopen a blocked artery. The researchers took into account well-known factors that affect the risk of coronary disease, such as age, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Besides the tendency for plaque to form at dangerous sites, the study also found an inherited tendency for ectasia, abnormal widening of arteries associated with heart disease, and a tendency for plaque to become calcified, which increases the risk of artery blockage.
No genetic influence was found in a number of other coronary disease factors, such as whether a person had disease in one, two or three arteries.
The study was not designed to identify the genes that influence the development of coronary artery disease. “That will be our next step,” Broeckel said. “It will keep us busy for the next few years.”