Dr Sarah Jarvis explained that too much cholesterol in the blood can “clog up your blood vessels”. Typically reserved for those who follow a poor diet and don’t exercise, FH is different. Discussing the condition with Dr Dermot Neely – a lipid specialist and trustee of Heart UK – Dr Jarvis pointed out that the condition is surprisingly common. FH affects around one in 250 people within the UK, Dr Jarvis said.
People with FH develop double the normal amount of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) from the moment they’re born, stated Dr Neely.
This means they can get furry (i.e. clogged) arteries from a young age, putting them at risk of a heart attack before the age of 40.
The problematic gene that has been passed down from previous generations has caused a change in the LDL receptor.
The LDL receptor is supposed to pick up excess cholesterol in the blood, transport it to the liver, to be excreted from the body.
Lowering cholesterol levels can then cause previous deposits to “melt away”.
Dr Jarvis emphasised the importance of a healthy heart, healthy diet, regular exercise, and a healthy weight if you have FH.
Being overweight “can have a huge impact on cholesterol for all FH patients”.
“Obviously, I would tell them to avoid smoking,” added Dr Neely, “because smoking itself causes damage to the blood vessel linings.”
The current national guidelines recommend children of FH parents to be tested for the condition before the age of 10 years old.
“Children who are diagnosed with FH will be looked after by a specialist who is an expert in FH in children and young people,” said Heart UK.
Children with FH are encouraged to be active “for at least an hour a day”.
“Children under five should be active for three [hours], spread out throughout the day,” the charity added.