The Accuracy of Adult Patients' Reports of Their Parents' Medical Histories. Ann Intern Med. 2004;140:I-58. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-140-6-200403160-00004
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Published: Ann Intern Med. 2004;140(6):I-58.
When doctors estimate a patient's risk for heart disease, one of the factors they consider is whether the patient's parents had heart disease. This is one of the reasons that doctors routinely ask patients about family medical history. However, we do not know very much about the accuracy of patients' reports of family medical history.
To see how accurately people report their parents' medical histories related to heart disease.
791 men and 837 women whose mothers and fathers had both participated in the Framingham Heart Study, which is a study of heart disease that began in 1948 and that has included many residents of Framingham, Massachusetts.
The researchers asked people in the study about their own health. They also asked whether their mothers or their fathers ever had high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, diabetes mellitus, heart attack before age 55 years, or stroke before age 65 years or died of heart disease. The researchers checked the parents' medical records to see whether the study participants' reports of their parents' medical histories were accurate.
Study participants were accurate when they reported that a parent had high blood pressure, high cholesterol level, or diabetes. Reports that a parent did not have diabetes, heart attack before age 55 years, or stroke before age 65 years were also accurate. However, participants were often wrong when they reported that a parent did not have high blood pressure or a high cholesterol level. In addition, reports that a parent had had a heart attack before age 55 years or a stroke before age 65 years were often wrong.
It is possible that the results of this study of people in the Framingham Heart Study would not apply to other groups of people who were less aware of issues related to heart disease.
Doctors should be aware that patient reports of parents' medical history of heart disease may be inaccurate, especially when patients report that a parent had heart attack or stroke at an early age or that a parent did not have high blood pressure or a high cholesterol level.
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