February is National Heart Month. To do our part for this important occasion, the FH Foundation would like to help raise awareness about heart disease, particularly as it runs in families. Most families have at least one member who struggles to keep their heart healthy, and it’s important to know if these struggles are unique to one individual, or could possibly be passed on.
Specifically, the FH Foundation would like to take this opportunity to address one particular inherited condition that can lead to severe heart disease if not carefully managed. We’re referring, of course, to Familial Hypercholesterolemia, or FH.
What Is FH?
FH is an inherited disorder that affects your body’s production and metabolizing of cholesterol. By now you probably know a lot about cholesterol, and you’ve probably heard that having “bad” cholesterol can lead to heart disease. Additionally, you likely understand that diet and exercise are key to keeping your cholesterol levels in check. This is all true, however, for patients with FH, diet and lifestyle are not the cause of high cholesterol, and they’re not enough to keep the problem at bay.
Patients who suffer from FH inherit a deficiency in their body’s ability to process cholesterol. Specifically, FH causes genetic mutations that make the liver incapable of metabolizing excess LDL, also known as “bad” cholesterol. But why is it bad? And is there such a thing as “good” cholesterol?
The Good, The Bad, The Lipoproteins
In fact, there is such a thing as good cholesterol. It’s called HDL. LDL and HDL are both lipoproteins, tiny particles that allow lipids like cholesterol to travel through the body. This is a normal part of the metabolic process; however, excess LDL-C, the “bad” cholesterol, can lead to cardiovascular stress and even heart disease. When a doctor refers to a person’s “cholesterol number,” (s)he’s referring to the measure of how much cholesterol is present in your LDL particles. And the greater your “bad” cholesterol number, the greater your risk of heart disease.
HDL is the “good” cholesterol. Higher levels of HDL can possibly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. However, it’s important to note that a high HDL number does not prevent or eliminate risk, especially for FH patients. A good doctor would much rather lower a patient’s bad cholesterol than raise the good cholesterol.
Because of the liver inefficiency caused by FH, FH patients are likely to experience significantly higher LDL-C numbers, potentially leading to aggressive and premature cardiovascular disease. For FH patients, diet and lifestyle are not the factors that decide their cholesterol levels. This is an inherited problem.
Raising Awareness1 in 200-500 people in the U.S. has FH, and up to 90% of those are not accurately diagnosed. FH awareness is the first step in fighting the disease, in addition to helping those who may be suffering to seek the help and treatment that they need. If you have a family history or believe you might be suffering from an inherited disease, especially one that affects heart health, consult your doctor or healthcare provider today. With National Heart Month in full swing, there has never been a better time. Take good care of your heart, and it will take good care of you.