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DYK: High Cholesterol Might Run in Your Family?

Know your numbers, know your risk.


Did you know that cholesterol is not inherently bad? Your body actually needs this waxy substance to help digest food and build cells. However, too much of the wrong kind of cholesterol – low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – is unhealthy and can increase your risk for heart attack. For some people, LDL cholesterol can be managed by diet and exercise alone, while others may require medication and may have a genetic condition called familial hypercholesterolemia.

What is familial hypercholesterolemia?

Familial hypercholesterolemia is a really big phrase that means you have a genetic disorder that causes your body to not process LDL cholesterol as it should. If left untreated, LDL cholesterol levels remain high throughout your lifetime. This sustained elevation of LDL levels increases your risk for heart disease and heart attacks.

What are the symptoms of familial hypercholesterolemia?

High cholesterol often has little to no symptoms, but there are two main indicators that a person should be tested for familial hypercholesterolemia: High cholesterol (LDL ≥190 mg/dl) and family history of heart disease and/or high cholesterol.

“About 85 percent of people who have familial hypercholesterolemia have not been identified,” says Andrew Sumner, MD, cardiologist with Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute. “If someone has cholesterol greater than 190 mg/dl, it’s worth getting evaluated.”

If I have familial hypercholesterolemia, will my kids have it as well?

Children who have one parent with familial hypercholesterolemia have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the genetic abnormality. Any child who has a close relative (parent or sibling) with familial hypercholesterolemia or a close relative who has had an early heart attack should also be tested. Early detection allows children to begin treatment earlier and decrease their risk for heart disease.

How can I be evaluated for familial hypercholesterolemia?

Lehigh Valley Heart and Vascular Institute created a familial hypercholesterolemia program to help identify people who need treatment. “The goal of our program is to screen and identify patients. If we find that someone has familial hypercholesterolemia, we offer testing and screening for their family members,” Sumner says. “We can then treat everyone in the family who is affected, and hopefully change the course of natural history.”

The first step is to know your cholesterol levels. Ask your primary care provider how often your cholesterol should be evaluated. The frequency will vary depending on your past cholesterol levels, family history and age.

If you have high cholesterol (LDL ≥190 mg/dl) and a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, call 888-402-LVHN to be evaluated for familial hypercholesterolemia.

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