FH and Early Heart Disease
Does Your Family Fit the Pattern?
Have you ever heard someone say that high cholesterol or heart disease runs in their family? Have you heard similar things said about your own family? Have you ever heard of familial hypercholesterolemia (FH)?
If your family history includes relatives who suffered from heart attacks in their 20s, 30s, 40s, or 50s, you should think about sharing your family history and exploring FH with your doctor – even if you are not sure whether or not anyone in your family has been diagnosed. FH is a common disorder, but it but it often goes undetected. It’s estimated that FH is undiagnosed in up to 80% of people affected.1,5
FH is not just high cholesterol. Lots of people have high cholesterol that occurs because of the effects of aging or lifestyle. The liver helps to remove cholesterol from the blood. In FH, the liver does not remove cholesterol as well because of a gene that is passed down from one or both parents. This increases your chances of developing heart attacks and cardiovascular disease.1,4,6
Because FH is a genetic disorder that is passed down through generations much like hair or eye color, one of the warning signs doctors look for is a family pattern of early cardiovascular disease.1
If your doctor determines that you have FH, it is critical that you share the news with your family and take them to be screened, especially if you have children. Siblings, parents, aunts, uncles, and children of people with FH have a 1 in 2 chance of having FH, too.1,4
Early Detection: Reduce Chance of Heart Disease
If FH is found early, your chances of developing serious problems of the heart and blood vessels may be reduced, prevented, or delayed by working with your healthcare professional to make changes, such as not smoking, regularly exercising, eating a healthy diet, and taking medications prescribed by your doctor.1
Children who have siblings or parents with familial hypercholesterolemia should be screened too, because cholesterol buildup can begin at a very young age. The latest guidelines from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend that if a family has a pattern of early heart attacks or heart disease (before age 55 for men and age 65 for women), a child in that family should have his or her cholesterol checked between the ages of 2 and 8. In addition, the new NHLBI/AAP guidelines recommend that all children be screened for high cholesterol between ages 9 and 11.2
It is important to find FH and take appropriate action.