Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (FH)

Family walkingSome people are born with familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH), which is a genetic condition. FH results in exceptionally high levels of cholesterol in your blood.

FH is one of the most common inherited conditions. If you have FH, you might have had high cholesterol from birth. You also have a higher risk of getting heart disease at an early age if the condition is left untreated.

Is FH a common cause of high cholesterol?

For most people, high cholesterol is not genetic. Many people have high cholesterol levels because they:

  • eat too much saturated fat
  • smoke
  • are overweight 
  • are not physically active, or
  • have an underactive thyroid gland or long-term kidney problems.

How does FH cause high cholesterol?

If you have FH, your liver can’t remove enough of the bad type of cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) from your blood. This means that the bad type of cholesterol in your blood remains high.

This can cause a gradual build-up of fatty material in your coronary arteries otherwise known as atheroma. Other risk factors like high blood pressure or smoking can also contribute to atheroma.

Why does my doctor think I have FH?

FH is not easy to diagnose. Your doctor may suspect FH if:

  • a routine blood test shows you have a high cholesterol level
  • you have a heart attack or stroke, especially if it happens at a young age
  • other members of your family have a history of premature coronary heart disease or stroke
  • other members of your family have been diagnosed with FH, or
  • you or your doctor have noticed other changes to your body that may suggest you have FH.

Is there a cure for FH?

There isn’t a cure for FH, but it can be treated successfully. The treatment can reduce your risk of getting heart disease, having a heart attack or stroke, or needing other treatment. If you or your child is diagnosed with FH, speak with your doctor about the best treatment plan.

Many people with FH take a medicine called a statin, which helps lower your cholesterol levels. You should also make sure that you have a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, and take plenty of exercise.

If you have further questions about inherited heart conditions, our Genetic Information Service can help you. For even more information about high cholesterol, contact Heart UK.