Trying to dodge heart disease? You may want to consider your family, especially your brothers and sisters.

In a nutshell, your brother's or sister's heart health might predict your own heart's future.

A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association shows that:

· Middle-aged adults were 45% more likely to get cardiovascular disease if they had a sibling with cardiovascular disease.

· Having a sibling with cardiovascular disease was riskier than having a parent who had cardiovascular disease at a relatively young age.

The researchers included Joanne Murabito, MD, ScM, of Boston University and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Framingham Heart Study.

What are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease?

All in the Family

Murabito and colleagues had a simple mission: Hunt for cardiovascular disease in the families of 2,475 middle-aged adults.

Participants were followed for eight years as part of the Framingham Offspring study. Their parents had participated in the earlier Framingham Heart Study, which was based in Framingham, Mass.

Fitness Impacts Heart Disease Risk

Over eight years, the group had 329 cardiovascular "events." Those events included heart attacks, chest pain (angina), inadequate coronary blood flow, intermittent claudication (such as seen in peripheral arterial disease), stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA), or any deaths due to coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.

Lots of heart hazards — including smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and excess weight — were considered.

6-Figure Salaries Good for Your Heart

Even so, the odds of having an "event" were 45% higher for participants with a sibling who had had an "event." In other words, having a sibling with heart disease upped the risk of heart disease.

Parental Influence

Parents' cardiovascular health also mattered.

Cardiovascular "events" were more common among participants whose parents had had premature disease.

But, siblings' cardiovascular problems were an even bigger risk factor, the study shows.

5 Steps to a Healthier Heart

Why were some families hard-hit by cardiovascular disease? The data don't show that. Genetics and other influences, some of which may start before birth, may have mattered, the researchers note.

Most participants and their parents were white. It's not known if the results hold for people of different races and ethnic groups.

Saving Your Heart

You can't change your family tree, but many cardiovascular risks can be prevented or treated.

For instance, quitting smoking is advised for better cardiovascular health. Taming problems with blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol is also important. Eating healthfully and being physically active are also widely recommended.

See your doctor to gauge your cardiovascular risk and learn how to help yourself. You might inspire your relatives to do the same.

Visit WebMD's Heart Disease Health Center

By Miranda Hitti, WebMD Medical News. Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD.

SOURCES: Murabito, J. The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dec. 28, 2005; vol 294: pp 3117-3123. News release, JAMA/Archives.