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How accurately do adult sons and daughters report and perceive parental deaths from coronary disease ?
  1. Graham Watta,
  2. Alex McConnachiea,
  3. Mark Uptona,
  4. Carol Emsliea,
  5. Kate Huntb
  1. aDepartment of General Practice, University of Glasgow, 4 Lancaster Crescent, Glasgow G12 ORR, bMRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow
  1. Professor Watt (G.C.M.Watt{at}


OBJECTIVES To describe how adult sons and daughters report and perceive parental deaths from heart disease

DESIGN Two generation family study.

SETTING West of Scotland.

SUBJECTS 1040 sons and 1298 daughters aged 30–59 from 1477 families, whose fathers and mothers were aged 45–64 in 1972–76 and have been followed up for mortality over 20 years.

OUTCOME Perception of a “family weakness” attributable to heart disease.

RESULTS 26% of sons and daughters had a parent who had died of coronary heart disease (CHD). The proportion was higher in older offspring (+18% per 10 year age difference) and in manual compared with non-manual groups (+37%). Eighty nine per cent of parental deaths from CHD were correctly reported by offspring. Only 23% of sons and 34% of daughters with at least one parent who had died of CHD considered that they had a family weakness attributable to heart disease. Perceptions of a family weakness were higher when one or both parents had died of CHD, when parental deaths occurred at a younger age, in daughters compared with sons and in offspring in non-manual compared with manual occupations.

CONCLUSIONS Only a minority of sons and daughters with experience of a parent having died from CHD perceive this in terms of a family weakness attributable to heart disease. Although men in manual occupations are most likely to develop CHD, they are least likely to interpret a parental death from CHD in terms of a family weakness. Health professionals giving advice to patients on their familial risks need to be aware of the difference between clinical definitions and lay perceptions of a family history of heart disease.

  • coronary heart disease
  • family history
  • social class

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  • Funding: this study was funded by the NHS Cardiovascular R&D Programme. MU was funded as a Wellcome Trust Clinical Epidemiology Training Fellow. CE was funded via a project grant as part of the ESRC Health Variations Research Programme.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.