Only child? You may be at a higher risk of heart disease

May 26, 2021
Your order of birth may also play a role. Source: Getty

Those with siblings may consider them to be some of the most important people in your life. Sure, brothers and sisters can be annoying, but if recent research is to be believed, they are also doing wonders for your health.

A new Swedish study has revealed those with no siblings could have a higher risk of heart problems later in life when compared with those who have a few siblings. Those from large families with many siblings are also at an increased risk of heart problems.

Using national registers over a 25-year period, researchers looked at the number and relative age of siblings and how such information linked to fatal and non-fatal heart attacks and strokes. They accessed the data of 1.36 million men and 1.32 million women who were born between 1932 and 1960 and aged between 30 and 58 years in 1990.

In addition to finding those with no siblings had an increased rate of heart problems, the research also revealed that first-born children had a lower risk of heart issues such as heart attack and stroke. However, first-born men with three or more siblings and first-born women with one younger sibling were also at an increased risk of fatal heart disease.

Family size also played its part in the overall findings, with researchers revealing that compared with men with no siblings, men with one or two siblings had a lower risk of cardiovascular events, while those with four or more siblings had a higher risk. Similarly, compared with men with no siblings, men with more than one sibling had a lower risk of death, while those with three or more siblings had an increased risk of coronary events.

The trend in women was similar. Compared with those with no siblings, women with three or more siblings had an increased risk of cardiovascular events, while those with two or more siblings had an increased risk of coronary events. Women with one or more siblings had a lower risk of death.

The findings were published in the online journal BMJ Open and while the authors highlight the study was only observational — and therefore they cannot establish cause — it has created an increased interest in what impact a person’s immediate family make-up can have on their heart health.

“More research is needed to understand the links between sibling number and rank with health outcomes,” the authors said.

“Future research should be directed to find biological or social mechanisms linking the status of being first born to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, as indicated by our observational findings.”

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia, claiming the life of one person every 29 minutes, and it’s seniors who are most at risk.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, there are a staggering 1.2 million adults in Australia living with one or more conditions related to their heart or vascular health, and more than four in five cardiovascular disease hospitalisations during the 2017-18 period occurred in those aged 55 and over.

Meanwhile, according to the Heart Foundation, heart disease kills an average of 50 Australians a day and someone is hospitalised for heart disease every three minutes. This high percentage of heart disease is primarily related to high blood pressure and high cholesterol – both of which are associated with obesity.

These statistics may sound alarming, especially considering Australia is a developed country and we have access to high-quality medical care and an abundance of fresh produce to keep us healthy. But the good news is: heart disease can largely be prevented by making simple lifestyle changes.

Ditching cigarettes, getting enough sleep, eating a variety of nutritious foods and keeping up a regular exercise regime are the first adjustments to make, with various studies and experts claiming these four factors can make a world of difference to your heart health.

How many siblings do you have? Is there a history of heart disease in your family?

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