Cholesterol is an important molecule necessary for normal metabolic functioning–in fact, the body even makes its own. The problem is having too much cholesterol. This can result from lifestyle choices or the hereditary condition Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH), which leaves the liver incapable of removing cholesterol. The resulting buildup of excess cholesterol in blood vessels leads to life-threatening heart attacks, coronary disease and strokes. The following are 10 facts you should know about high cholesterol and FH.
- You Need a Blood Test to Know If You Have High Cholesterol
The American Heart Association advocates having your primary doctor run a comprehensive cholesterol screening to show your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides. While there are some home testing devices on the market, many of them do not measure each type of cholesterol. The Mayo Clinic states that it is important to know absolute numbers for all of your cholesterol levels for determining appropriate treatment, if necessary.
- Don’t Wait for Symptoms of High Cholesterol to Get Tested
Many people do not know that they are at risk because there are often no symptoms of high cholesterol. By the time symptoms appear you are already in danger of having a cardiovascular incident.
- If You Have Visible Symptoms of High Cholesterol, You May Have FH
For individuals with extremely high levels of cholesterol caused by FH, excess cholesterol may be deposited in lumps or bumps around the knuckles, elbows, and knees, or as yellowish areas or white arcs near the colored part of the eye. Swollen or painful Achilles tendons may also be symptoms of high cholesterol.
- 90 Percent of People With FH Don’t Know They Have It
Because there usually are no symptoms of high cholesterol, people often don’t get tested.
- High Cholesterol Can Be Inherited
FH is a genetic disorder that leads to aggressive and early heart disease. If one of your parents has the defective gene that causes FH, you have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the condition, a form of the disorder known as Heterozygous FH (HeFH). If both of your parents have it, you also have a 25 percent chance of inheriting the more serious form of the disorder, known as Homozygous FH (HoFH).
- Family Medical History Is Important
If your family has a pattern of heart attacks or heart disease (in men before age 55 or in women before age 65), the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children in your family undergo cholesterol testing between ages 2-10.
- People With FH Have A 20 Times Higher Risk of Heart Disease
According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, men with FH are likely to have heart attacks between the ages of 40-50, and 85 percent of men with FH will have a heart attack by age 60. Women with FH have an increased risk for heart attack at age 50-60. FH can cause heart attack or sudden death as early as the teenage years.
- Even Children Can Have High Cholesterol
Children with FH start collecting cholesterol in their arteries as toddlers, and by the time they are 12 they may already have measurable atherosclerosis.
- If You Have FH, You Need Medication
Lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower hereditary high cholesterol. FH is most often treated by a combination of medicines. In certain cases, additional interventions may also be required. Meeting with a physician knowledgeable in FH is necessary for patients with FH to determine the best treatment plan for them.
- High Cholesterol Is Controllable
Through diet, exercise, weight management, and (in most cases) medication, you can keep your cholesterol under control.the Family Heart Foundation is a patient-centered nonprofit organization dedication to education, advocacy, and research of FH. For more information about hereditary high cholesterol and ways to manage it, contact the Family Heart Foundation today, or explore our website.