Skip main navigation

Genetics (Part 1)

Research is being done to look at genetics and cardiovascular problems. Watch Dr Chris Jones explain more.
Alongside age and gender, there are other risk factors that affect cardiovascular disease. Numerous studies have pointed to the effect of race. There are socioeconomic impacts. By socioeconomic, we mean an individual’s wealth, their income, their educational levels, and their occupation. The risk of cardiovascular disease increases with social deprivation. And independent of this, educational attainment also reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. Your family history also affects your risk of cardiovascular disease. What we mean by family history is what your grandparents, your parents, and your siblings may die of. What they die of is also likely to kill you. There’s a lot of evidence to this familial link.
Numerous studies have pointed to the fact that people who suffer from a premature cardiovascular event - so that’s a cardiovascular event below the age of 55 for men and below the age of 65 for women. So people who have a premature cardiovascular event, their offspring are likely to have higher risk factors for cardiovascular disease. There are also the case control studies where cases of people who suffered from cardiovascular disease against controls who haven’t. And these studies show that subjects who have had cardiovascular disease are 2 to 5 times more likely to have a parent who suffered from a premature cardiovascular event.
This is good evidence, but I think the best piece of evidence comes from the Framingham Heart Study, an analysis of this study that was done by Donald Lloyd-Jones and colleagues in 2004; and was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Now the Framingham Heart Study is a fantastic study. It’s incredibly famous and it’s been very useful in understanding the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The Framingham Heart Study was set up in 1948 in the town of Framingham in Massachusetts in the United States of America. When it was set up, 5,209 volunteers were recruited into the study. They had an extensive physical exam and a lifestyle questionnaire.
And then every two years afterwards, they returned and the researchers did another physical exam and got them to fill in an extensive medical history. In 1971, the study was extended. 5,124 offspring and siblings of this initial cohort were recruited. These were, again, subject to the same physical and medical tests. And they’ve been recalled every four years since. Lloyd-Jones and his colleagues used this data, used this cohort to show that people who’d had a premature cardiovascular disease had offspring not only with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease - so had the increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease - but actually went on to have more cardiovascular diseased events.
It’s clear from all these studies that there is an inherited component to cardiovascular disease. Now if we can work out what is driving this inherited component, we could use it to screen people or possibly treat people for cardiovascular disease. Therefore, people have started to look at the genetics that underlie cardiovascular disease.

In this first video about genetics as a non-modifiable risk factor, Dr Chris Jones looks at how you are very likely to suffer the same cardiovascular problems that your family members in the past have suffered from, and some of the research that has been done to look into genetic patterns.

You can download the Week 4 supplement, which contains additional images and descriptions to help you understand the topics covered in this video.

British Heart Foundation resources

Find out more in the following, optional, video Family history and heart disease; one of a series, produced by the British Heart Foundation Risking it: Fighting against risk factors in coronary heart disease.

This article is from the free online

Heart Health: A Beginner's Guide to Cardiovascular Disease

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now