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|Familial Hypercholesterolemia , or FH, is a common disorder about which many people remain unaware. It is important to promote FH awareness to ensure that people will get checked and take the proper precautions for a healthier life. The FH Foundation works to raise the awareness of the disorder among people, and it is something about which others can help spread the word.
What Is FH?
FH is a genetic disorder causing mutations in the liver that affects the cardiovascular system. It affects the body's ability to remove cholesterol from the blood, leading to aggressive and premature cardiovascular disease. Patients with this disorder often experience heart attacks, narrowing of the heart valve, and strokes. Although diet and exercise remains an important component of regulating cholesterol elves in the body, those with FH have certain genetic mutations that affect the liver's ability to metabolize LDL, which results in high levels of LDL cholesterol, causing heart problems.
Cholesterol is typically associated with food, but the body actually makes most of the cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol needs to be removed from the blood to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. The liver is essential to removing the excess cholesterol; therefore, problems in the liver can cause cardiovascular problems, which is what happens with FH.
How Many People Are Affected?
FH affects 1 in 200 or 1 in 500 people around the world. This leads to an estimated 600,000 to two million people in the US alone living with the disorder. However, it is estimated that about 90 percent have no idea they have the disorder. This leaves them in danger of experiencing cardiovascular problems at an early age. With FH awareness, more people would know to get checked for the genetic mutation and take the proper precautions to prevent many problems.
Why Early Detection Is Important
Individuals with FH have a 20 percent higher risk of serious cardiovascular problems. If it is found early, then it can be treated and mitigate much of the problems associated with the disorder. The typical treatment includes diet, exercise, no smoking, and medication to keep the individuals' cholesterol levels in check. Some patients also need to undergo LDL-apheresis, which is a procedure that removes the LDL cholesterol from the body at regular intervals, typically weekly or biweekly.
Who Should Be Tested
Families with several members experiencing heart disease or heart attacks prior to age 55 in men and 65 in women should be tested early. The testing should start as children, ideally between the age of 2 and prior to age 10. However, as soon as a family is aware this must be a problem, all blood relatives should be tested regardless of age. Treatment can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems to that of the general population. With increased FH awareness, more people can be aware they have the problem at an early age and take action before they experience any problems.
As with any disease, awareness is key to ensuring people are adequately treated. With a higher degree of FH awareness, more people can be adequately screened and take early measures. Not only can they go on medication, but they can also take action through diet, exercise, and lifestyle choices to reduce cholesterol and ensure their cardiovascular system remains healthy.
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