SOURCE: Heart and Stroke Foundation

Heart and Stroke Foundation

November 05, 2015 06:00 ET

Family History Can Double Your Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke, Yet New Poll Finds a Third of Canadians Have Not Discussed Inherited Risks With Their Doctor

To Raise Awareness and Funds the Heart and Stroke Foundation Focuses Holiday Campaign on Genetic Research

TORONTO, ON--(Marketwired - November 05, 2015) - Heart and Stroke Foundation experts want more Canadians to know that family history of heart disease and stroke (CVD) is the greatest predictor of inherited risk. Simply, this means that someone who has heart disease and stroke in their family history has an increased risk of developing heart disease or stroke themselves. And according to a new poll, many Canadians don't seem to take this seriously. The poll* found that half (51%) are aware they have a family history of heart disease or stroke (CVD), yet a full third (34%) of these have not visited a doctor and discussed their inherited risks.

The poll also found that six in ten Canadians (63%) with a family history of CVD say this is a first degree relative (parent, sibling, child), which researchers point to as the key indicator for inherited risk of developing CVD. Out of this group, half (52%) reported that a parent, sibling or child has died from CVD. Another concerning fact is that nearly a third (30%) of Canadians who are aware of a family history of CVD, do not take this family history seriously enough to be vigilant about their cardiovascular health.

For some Canadians, knowledge of inherited risks can save lives. Halifax resident Tim Westhaver, age 56, lives with a genetic heart disorder that claimed the life of his mother at only 37 years of age, his brother at 49 and two nephews - one only in his teens, the other in his early 20s. Called 'hypertrophic cardiomyopathy' or HCM, it's an inherited disorder (about one in 500 people are carriers) whose cause lies in our genes, and sudden cardiac death is the most devastating consequence. "Life has thrown my family a curve ball, but with medicine and research our story is now one about survival, where so many of us, including my two children, have fared far better than our ancestors," says Westhaver.

Genetic screening has now identified 10 additional relatives in Tim's family that carry the gene that causes HCM. These members of Tim's family are alive today and living a full life because each person carrying the gene now has an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), a small device that is surgically inserted to keep the heart beating regularly.

Tim's family has the chance to fare better than their ancestors because genetic research identified the gene that causes HCM. "Genetic research has the promise to be the next great leap for personalized medicine, giving us the opportunity to determine the best approach to treat, and potentially cure, conditions causes by our genes," says Dr. Robert Hegele, Scientific Director, London Regional Genomics Centre, and a Canada Research Chair in Human Genetics. "Out of the 84,000 genes with limitless combinations that can influence heart disease and stroke we've already identified about 20 per cent, and hope to map out the remaining 80 per cent in the next 5-10 years with continued research in this area."

The Heart and Stroke Foundation has boosted its free Heart&Stroke Risk Assessment to include new questions to assess inherited risk and how to mitigate it. The poll showed that of those Canadians who are aware of a family history of CVD, 13% have already taken the Risk Assessment. The holiday campaign is also asking Canadians to support funding research in critical areas like genetics, as the poll also found that only a third (35%) of Canadians with an awareness of inherited risk (51% of the population) have donated to heart disease and stroke research in the past year.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation's mission is to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery. A volunteer-based health charity, we strive to tangibly improve the health of every Canadian family, every day. Healthy lives free of heart disease and stroke. Together we will make it happen.

* The Heart and Stroke Foundation Family History of Cardiovascular Disease poll was conducted by Environics Research Group, in the form of a telephone survey among 2,020 adult Canadians from August 31 to September 17, 2015. The margin of error for a sample of this size is +/- 2.18 percentage points.

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Contact Information

  • For more information, please contact:
    Teresa Roncon
    Heart and Stroke Foundation
    416-489-7111 x 3060