WHAT IS FH?
Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a cholesterol problem found in families. Many people have high cholesterol but people with FH have very high cholesterol, starting in childhood or even at birth. People with FH also often have a pattern in their family history of early heart disease.
WHY IS FH A PROBLEM?
When you have FH, cholesterol can build up in the walls of blood vessels and over time lead to heart attacks, stroke and blood vessel disease. It is important that FH is found early to prevent cholesterol build-up and the blood vessel disease it may cause. FH families often have a pattern of people with ve ry high cholesterol who may have had a heart attack or heart disease early, in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s or 50’s.
HOW IS FH INHERITED?
The closest relatives of people with FH (parents, brothers and sisters, children) all have a 50% chance of also having FH.
Below is a picture of a FH family. The people in yellow have higher cholesterol levels, and some also have heart disease at an early age: these family members have inherited FH.
WHAT CAUSES FH?
Cholesterol is a wax-like, fatty substance that can build up in the walls of blood vessels. In most people, the liver helps remove cholesterol from the blood. In FH, the liver does not remove cholesterol as well, and cholesterol levels can build up earlier than for other people. Over time, the cholesterol build-up can cause events such as heart attacks and strokes.
WHY LOOK FOR FH?
If FH is found early, serious problems of the heart and blood vessels may be prevented or delayed by making changes such as:
- not smoking
- regularly exercising
- eating a healthy diet
- taking your medications
It is important to find FH and take action at any age, because when treated, the risk of heart disease can be reduced to levels similar to those of the general population.
HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOU HAVE FH?
People with FH may look perfectly healthy. FH may not even be found during a health check-up. Nurses and doctors may find FH by a cholesterol test and a review of your family history.
WHAT CAN YOU DO IF YOU HAVE FH?
- Tell your family that you have FH and encourage them to have their cholesterol checked too
- Take your medicines as directed _ it can become a routine, like brushing your teeth
- Have your childrens’ cholesterol checked – this is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics
Download & print information about FH
Disclaimer: This and other PCNA educational materials are for information purposes only and are not intended to replace medical advice or diagnose or treat health problems. Health-related decisions should be made in partnership with a healthcare provider. It is the reader's responsibility to seek out the most current, accurate information.