Is high cholesterol in your family?

Mushrooms IsolatedWhile diet and lifestyle are very important factors in keeping your cholesterol levels down, for some people, it is not lifestyle, but genetics that cause their elevated cholesterol levels.

Chemical Pathologist and Endocrinologist Dr Damon Bell from St John of God Pathology says familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) is an inherited condition that affects about 1 in 300 people.

“FH is associated with elevated low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and early heart disease,” Dr Bell says.

“Men with untreated FH have a 50% risk of heart disease by the age of 50, and women a 30% risk by age 60.”

“If you have FH, you have a 50% chance of passing this on to your children.”

If you have a healthy diet, about 75% of the cholesterol in your body is made by your liver. Among other things, cholesterol is important for making cell walls, steroid hormones and vitamin D.

Because cholesterol is a fat, it does not mix well with blood, which is water based, so cholesterol is carried around the blood in protein carriers called lipoproteins such as low density lipoprotein (LDL). If the cholesterol is not required by the body, the LDL is recycled by the liver.

People with FH do not effectively recycle LDL back through the liver and have high blood cholesterol levels from birth.

“Thankfully, lifestyle changes, combined with medications, can dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease and early treatment may completely remove the elevated risk of vascular disease.”

“But over 90% of the estimated 80,000 people with FH in Australia do not know they have it.”

“So if you have a family history of high cholesterol and or premature heart attacks (before the age of 60 years old), ask your GP if you are at risk of FH.”

St John of God Pathology assists GPs by alerting them when one of their patients is at risk of FH.

Visit the FH Australasia Network website for more information www.athero.org.au/patients/what-is-fh

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