Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (FH)

Family outdoors

Some people are born with familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH), which is a genetic condition.

FH results in exceptionally high levels of cholesterol in your blood.


What is Familial Hypercholesterolaemia?

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.

Familial Hypercholesterolaemia and 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.

Does FH cause high cholesterol?

If you have Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (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.

Treatments 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.

Read about how Donna Davies and her family have been affected by FH

Many people with Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (FH) take a medicine called a statins, 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.

Testing for Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (FH)

Thanks to the work of Professor Steve Humphries, it is now possible to test for FH. 

We have funded ‘cascade testing centres’ in Wales and England where you and your family can take a simple blood test to determine if you have the condition. For more information, please contact our Genetic Information Service on 0300 456 8383. (Lines are open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday (charged at a rate similar to 01 or 02 calls).