Familial hypercholesterolemia, commonly called FH, is a genetic condition contributing to high cholesterol. And it runs in families. This means a genetic test — such as those done by the Healthy Nevada Project — can tell you whether you might be at risk.
Do you have your dad’s nose or your mom’s hair? These are common physical traits present in your family’s unique genetic code. While these visual traits don’t affect your health, genetic research is finding links that are vital to your health. One of these important genetic links is to familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). Those with FH have excessive levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease causes one in four deaths in the United States each year. It is also is the leading cause of death in the U.S. High cholesterol is a key risk factor for both heart disease and stroke.
Why is diagnosing familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) important?
If you have high cholesterol, you have twice the risk of heart disease than those with lower levels. But if you have FH, your risk level jumps to 20 times the risk. FH is a genetic disorder causing your cholesterol to be abnormally high as your body is unable to efficiently remove LDL from your blood. You only need to get the abnormal gene from one parent to inherit FH.
Chris Rowan, M.D., FACC, heart doctor with Renown Institute for Heart & Vascular Health, answers some common questions surrounding FH. These offer insights into the importance of considering family history when diagnosing heart disease treatment.
Are there any symptoms of FH?
FH is a genetic condition by which people can have high cholesterol. No matter what the cholesterol level, there is a five-fold increased risk of heart disease. Unfortunately for most people the first symptoms is a heart attack.
How do I know if I have FH?
If you happened to have a family history of heart disease and a bad cholesterol level over 160, you should get genetic testing. If your bad cholesterol is over 190, you should also be tested. Because it is free, I think anyone worried about premature heart disease should come into the Healthy Nevada Project to get free genetic screening.
What is the treatment for FH?
The treatment for FH starts with diet and lifestyle changes such as becoming more active. This does not mean running marathons, but simply daily walking. Aim to get 10,000 steps per day. However, most people with FH can’t get their cholesterol low enough and will need to start on some kind of medical therapy.
Call 911 and seek medical care immediately if you experience chest pain or other signs of a heart attack.