If you have high cholesterol, it’s likely that you know others who have it too. In the United States alone, an estimated 71 million Americans have too much LDL or “bad” cholesterol in their blood. But don’t think that because high cholesterol is common that it isn’t serious. Having high cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
High Cholesterol With An Even Higher Risk
Some people with high cholesterol have an even higher risk of developing heart attacks or strokes – nearly 20 times higher. These individuals have Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH), a genetic condition that compromises the liver’s ability to remove cholesterol. If left undetected and untreated, FH can lead to early and aggressive heart disease, sometimes affecting people as early as their teens or 20s.
Recognizing Familial Hypercholesterolemia Symptoms
FH is not rare but it is rarely diagnosed. In fact, only 1 in 10 people with FH know that they have it. It is a serious medical condition that always requires medical attention, so if you have high cholesterol it is important to determine if you have any of these Familial Hypercholesterolemia symptoms:
- High LDL cholesterol, especially at an early age. Excessive levels of LDL cholesterol are a primary indicator of FH. You are at risk for FH if your LDL is above 190 mg/dL (adult), or above 160 mg/dL (child).
- High cholesterol that can’t be controlled through lifestyle changes. Because FH is a genetic condition that is the result of inefficient liver functioning, external factors such as diet, exercise, and weight control aren’t enough to manage cholesterol levels in individuals with FH. Medication is a critical component of treatment if you have FH.
- A family history of early heart disease or heart attacks at a young age. For males, this is generally defined as experiencing a cardiovascular incident before the age of 60; for females, before the age of 70.
- Bumps or lumps around the knuckles, elbows, and knees, or swollen or painful Achilles tendons. These are cholesterol deposits called “xanthomas.”
- Orange yellowish areas around the eyes (“xanthelasmas”) or a white arc near the colored part of the eye (“corneal arcus”), which are also visible cholesterol deposits.
Most people with FH don’t show any visible Familial Hypercholesterolemia symptoms, so it’s very important to be aware of your family medical history and your own cholesterol levels when considering your risk. If your family has a pattern of early heart attacks or heart disease, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends cholesterol testing for all members as early as age 2. Moreover, they recommend cholesterol screening for all children ages 9 to 11. It is important to visit a physician knowledgeable in FH in order to determine if your high cholesterol is indeed genetic, and in order to obtain early diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.For more information about Familial Hypercholesterolemia symptoms, effects and treatments, or to find an FH Specialist nearest you, contact the Family Heart Foundation, a patient-centered non-profit organization dedicated to education, advocacy and research of FH.