You can inherit heart failure, new data from the Framingham Heart Study shows.

The famous study is now two generations old, with some 20 years of follow-up data on the children of the original study subjects. The risk factors today used to evaluate a person's risk of heart attack and stroke came from the Framingham study.

Now the study shows what many doctors suspected: The sons and daughters of people with heart failure have at least a 70 percent higher risk of heart failure. And they have twice the risk of low heart-pumping strength -- which could lead to heart failure -- as people whose parents did not have the condition.

Framingham researcher Douglas S. Lee, MD, PhD, and colleagues report the findings in the July 13 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"We found that heart failure in parents was associated with a significant increase by a factor of about 2 in the likelihood of [heart] dysfunction in their offspring; the finding was consistent in both men and women," Lee and colleagues write. "Parental heart failure was associated … with at least a 70 percent increase in the risk of heart failure in the offspring."

Heart failure doesn't have a single cause. It's the result of a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Lee and colleagues estimate that parental heart failure is to blame for about 18 percent of the heart failure seen in the children of heart failure parents.

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By Daniel J. DeNoon, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Lee, D.S. New England Journal of Medicine, July 13, 2006; vol 355: pp 138-147.