Is that your familly killing you?

Our risk of developing diseases such as diabetes or cancer is often written in the genetic code we receive from our parents — which has, in turn, been passed down the generations to them.

Genes linked to everything from obesity to depression have been identified.
DNA tests costing around £300 are available — but you do not need to fork out to see if your genes are a ticking time bomb.Investigating illnesses that blighted your parents and grandparents can reveal risks.

Aimee Davies, 23, and sisters Tara, 22, and Zoe 19, are in good health.

But the family tree reveals the girls, from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, could face problems later on.

We asked experts to examine their risks — and what they can do to reduce them.

Family tree ... click on image

Heart problems

The sisters’ great-grandmother, Grace, died of a heart attack when she was just 46.

Grace’s siblings, Ray and Barbara, died of cardiac problems at the same age.

Grace’s daughter Carol is 67 and has very high cholesterol — as has their mum Dawn.

This pattern points to familial hypercholesterolaemia, an inherited condition, causing high levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol from birth.

Both Dawn and Carol have had triple heart bypasses.

RISK: All three girls have a high risk. Professor Nilesh Samani, a cardiologist at the University of Leicester, says: “If a parent has it there is a 50 per cent chance of developing the condition.”

The girls are lucky. DNA tests showed none of them has the danger gene.

ACTION PLAN: Have cholesterol and blood pressure tests every three to five years. And do not smoke — it can double the risk.

Lung problems

Tara already has asthma. Her great-grandmother Margaret died of lung cancer, her great grandmother Hilda died of bronchitis.

RISK: Professor Stephen Spiro, head of respiratory medicine at University College London, says asthma can be inherited. If one parent has it, there is a one-in-four chance a child will get it.

Bronchitis is not usually passed on. But, statistically, one of the sisters will fall ill if they don’t bin fags.

ACTION PLAN: Ditch the cigs. And watch what you eat. Studies show the Mediterranean diet, high in fruit and veg and low in red meat, cuts the risk of lung disease by 50 per cent.

One in 14 women suffer from this pregnancy problem associated with high blood pressure.

But up to 12 per cent go on to have eclampsia, which can cause life-threatening seizures.

The girls’ mother, Dawn, and their grandmother, Carol, both suffered pre-eclampsia.

RISK: Professor James Walker, from the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, says: “If two family members have the condition, there is a one-in-three chance of getting it.”

ACTION PLAN: Prof Walker says the girls should alert their doctor or midwife of their family history if they become pregnant.


Dawn and her father Graham, both runners, developed joint problems in their thirties. Her aunt, Kathleen, has rheumatoid arthritis.

RISK: Professor Alan Silman, medical director of the Arthritis Research Campaign, says: “A family history increases risk, but lifestyle factors such as diet have a role.”

ACTION PLAN: Smoking may up the risk, so Tara and Zoe should bin fags.


Idris, the girls’ grandfather, suffered a stroke five years ago.

RISK: Professor Hugh Markus, medical director of the Stroke Association, says risk is doubled if a direct family member has had one.

ACTION PLAN: Regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks.