Does being part of a large family increase the risk of cardiovascular problems?

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Carlos Laforet Coll
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A Swedish study examines the link between the number of siblings and the risk of developing heart problems

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Does being part of a large family increase the risk of cardiovascular problems? A new study examines the link between the number of siblings and the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.





Family history and lifestyle factors (smoking, unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle) certainly contribute to the onset of cardiovascular problems such as coronary artery disease and stroke. In addition to a family history characterized by many cases of cardiovascular problems, which can influence a genetic predisposition, the structure of the family unit (especially the order of birth with respect to brothers and sisters) can also influence the onset of these disorders. However, so far only a few studies have looked at the impact of family structure on the occurrence of non-fatal cardiovascular problems.

An important study conducted by Lund University (Sweden), which involved people aged between 30 and 58, now shows that the number of siblings and the order of birth can influence the risk of cardiovascular events (even serious ones) in an observation period of 25 years.

(Read: Brothers and Sisters: How Birth Order Can Affect Our Destiny)

To obtain information on family structure, the researchers referred to a registry containing information on the biological parents of more than 95% of the Swedish population born after 1931 and alive in 1961 - this was for 1,36 million men. and 1,32 million women, who in 1990 were between the ages of 30 and 58. The data relating to the onset of severe and less severe cardiovascular diseases among these individuals were obtained from the hospital registers of the years 1990-2015. Obviously, the researchers also took into account economic status, level of education, marital status and the coexistence of other diseases (such as diabetes) - all factors that have an influence on the onset of heart disease.

 In terms of family size, men and women with more than one sibling demonstrated a lower risk of fatal cardiovascular disease than their only children. However, while men with one or two siblings have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who have no siblings, men with more than four siblings show an even higher risk of heart disease than their only children. Likewise, women with three or more siblings have a higher risk of heart disease than women without siblings. Regarding the order of birth, the first children have a lower risk of cardiovascular problems than the children born later; however, first-born children have a higher mortality risk than their younger siblings.



However, the researchers specified that further studies are needed to understand the links between sibling numbers and the onset of health problems.

Source: BMJ Journals

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