Does high cholesterol run in your family?

According to Heart UK, the cholesterol charity, as many as one in 250 people in the UK may have genetic inherited high cholesterol, a condition known as familial hypercholesterolaemia (or FH for short). This means more than 260,000 in this country may be living with the condition.

FH runs in families and can lead to exceptionally high cholesterol levels that are often double and sometimes even four times the levels of other people. This type of high cholesterol isn’t caused by your lifestyle or your diet. Instead it’s passed down from one generation to another through an altered or faulty gene. According to Heart UK, this means if your brother, sister, mother or father has FH, you have a one in two chance of having it too

If you have undiagnosed and untreated FH, it can lead to early cardiovascular disease. But with treatment, the risk of cardiovascular disease can be reduced, and people with FH can have a normal life expectancy.

What’s your family health history?

Knowing your family health history can be important, particularly in the case of genetic inherited conditions such as FH. If one of your close relatives has very high cholesterol or if someone in your family has early heart disease, it’s essential to let your GP know about it, and they may arrange for you to have a blood test to check for FH.

They may also suspect you have FH if your cholesterol is very high or if you have any physical signs of high cholesterol, such as:

  • Yellow patches around your eyes
  • Swollen tendons on the heels and knuckles of your hands
  • A white arc-shaped deposit of cholesterol at the edge of the coloured part of your eye

On the other hand if you or your partner has FH, Heart UK recommends that your children should be tested for the condition before their 10th birthday, as they too have a one in two chance of inheriting it. This is important because treatment for FH works best when you start it early and before the condition does any damage to the blood vessels.

How your lifestyle can help

Whether you have FH or not, you can keep your cholesterol levels healthier by eating well, staying physically active and not smoking. Eating healthily and staying active can help keep your body weight at a healthy level. This is important because excess weight can increase your cholesterol level, as well as your chances of developing type 2 diabetes. According to Heart UK, you should try the following if you tend to gain weight easily:

  • Choose smaller portion sizes (using smaller plates or bowls can be helpful)
  • Make sure half of your plate is filled with vegetables
  • Avoid sugary and fatty snacks
  • Go for healthy foods that keep you feeling full (high-fibre foods, for instance)

As for staying active, aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of very vigorous activity each week. Find out more about some of the ways you can achieve this by reading How active are you?

Taking any medicines your GP prescribes for your condition is also essential if you’ve been diagnosed with FH or high cholesterol.

Your local Careway pharmacist can also help by suggesting ways of eating more healthily and by offering help and support with giving up smoking. Find your nearest participating Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.

This October is National Cholesterol Month. Find out more about how you can get involved via the Heart UK website.