Nearly 72 million American adults have high blood pressure and high cholesterol and this number represents about one third of the adults in America. To say that the United States has a problem with high cholesterol and high blood pressure is an understatement.
What’s particularly frightening about this statistic is that many people don’t even know that they have a problem — that is, until they suffer from a heart attack or a stroke. Most people are able to reduce their risk of strokes and heart attacks with simple lifestyle changes. Positive changes such as watching what you eat, exercising and not smoking can all help reduce cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. But for some, that’s not enough. These people have a disorder known as familial hypercholesterolemia, and genetics, not lifestyle, is to blame.
Confused About Cholesterol? You’re Not Alone
Cholesterol can be quite confusing. It’s a fatty substance that’s in the body’s bloodstream. It’s used to support cell membranes, but too much of it can be a bad thing.
To add to the confusion is that there are two types of cholesterol. High density lipoprotein, also called HDL, is the good kind, while low density lipoprotein, called LDL, is the harmful type. There are a number of foods that can help reduce LDL levels in the body, such as flaxseeds, fish and nuts.
About Familial Hypercholesterolemia & Genetics
If your parents or grandparents had high blood pressure or high cholesterol from a very young age, lifestyle might not have been to blame. For people with familial hypercholesterolemia, genetics are the culprit. Although lifestyle does matter for people with familial hypercholesterolemia, genetics play a larger role and the best diet and exercise habits in the world usually won’t be enough to lower cholesterol levels in the blood. The majority of people with FH will require medication to lower their cholesterol.
Anyone can live with familial hypercholesterolemia, however there are certain groups that are more susceptible to the disorder. These include people with Lebanese, French Canadian, Ashkenazi Jewish and South African Afrikaner backgrounds. These populations can have a familial hypercholesterolemia frequency rate of as high as one in 80 or one in 100.
How To Talk To Your Doctor About Familial Hypercholesterolemia & Genetics
If you do have a family history of familial hypercholesterolemia, talk to your doctor about being tested. This can be done through genetic counseling, but oftentimes a simple blood test is enough to diagnose FH. It’s also important to thoroughly answer your doctor’s health questionnaire so that he or she has an accurate picture of your entire health.
Once cholesterol levels become high enough, there can be physical signs. These include xanthelasmas, which are cholesterol deposits around the eyes and on the eyelids and xanthomas, which are cholesterol deposits on the ankles, hands, elbows and knees. If you start to see these deposits, it’s important to go to your doctor to receive medication to lower cholesterol.
If you suspect that you have familial hypercholesterolemia, genetics are important. The disorder can cause high cholesterol levels starting in childhood so it’s important to know if you have the disorder to protect your children. Learn more about the symptoms and find support at The FH Foundation.
Become A Member
The FH Foundation encourages FH Patients, family members, or supporters to become members of our foundation. Please join today!