Female's heart attack risk may begin in the womb

10:30AM, Nov 30th 2011

Your daughter's risk of developing heart disease later in life may increase before they are even born, finds a new Dutch study.

Your daughter's likelihood of developing heart disease may increase before they are even born, finds a new Dutch study.

Researchers from the Leiden University Medical Centre in the Netherlands found that women's heart attack risk increased more than eight times if they had certain changes in their genes, the US MSNBC reported.

Previous research has found that these changes occur due to stress in the womb, such as not getting enough nutrients or cigarette smoke, and supports the idea that a mother can directly influence her child's risk of disease through unhealthy practices during pregnancy.

"Health really starts in the womb," said study researcher Bas Heijmans, a molecular epidemiologist at the centre.

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In the study, researchers looked at 1654 participants aged 70 to 82 who hadn't had a heart attack. After three years, 122 of these people suffered a heart attack and their DNA was compared to 126 individuals of a similar age who had not suffered a heart attack.

During stresses during the in utero environment, six genes undergo what's called epigenetic changes, where a "chemical tag" is added to a section of DNA. Researchers found that two of these genes were associated with an increased risk of heart attack. Women with a tag on one gene were 2.8 times more likely to have a heart attack, and women with a tag on both genes were 8.6 times more likely to have a heart attack.

No changes in these genes were found to increase the heart attack risk for men.

However, Heijmans said further studies still need to be done with a wider range of age groups and to determine exactly what experiences participants have during the prenatal period to influence their genes.

The findings were published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

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