Contributed by: Dr. Pooja Chaudhary
For some, high cholesterol comes from their diet, but for others, high cholesterol is in their genes!
There is a long list of hereditary diseases that puts one at risk. High cholesterol is one of them, with an incidence rate of 50%. This means that if your parents or close relatives have high cholesterol, you have 1 in 2 chances of getting it too. Moreover, inherited high cholesterol puts men at a higher risk of getting heart attack before the age of 50 and women before 60. But in most cases, the incidence of inherited high cholesterol remains hidden till cardiac complications surface. Basically, you will not know about inherited high cholesterol unless you get tested for cholesterol.
Let us know more about cholesterol, inherited high cholesterol and how it is different from standard high cholesterol.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance occurring naturally in all parts of the body. Our body needs some cholesterol to work properly. If it is present in excess in our blood, then it can combine with other substances in the blood and stick to the walls of the arteries and becomes a plaque. Plaque can narrow the arteries or even block them.
Cholesterol comes in several different forms, some good and some bad. It is mostly present in 2 forms
- LDL Cholesterol: This is commonly referred to as bad cholesterol and is considered unhealthy to have high levels of LDL cholesterol in the body.
- HDL Cholesterol: This is referred as good cholesterol. Having higher level of high cholesterol is a sign of good health.
Inherited high cholesterol or familial hypercholesterolemia
Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) or inherited high cholesterol is a condition in which the cholesterol levels are higher than normal from birth. Having a close relative, such as a parent, sibling, or grandparent, who has high levels of cholesterol, makes it more likely for that person to have high level of cholesterol. This is mainly due to the passing on of genes from parents to children that increases the level of cholesterol in the blood.
Difference between Standard High Cholesterol & Inherited High Cholesterol
|Standard High Cholesterol||Inherited High Cholesterol|
In case of standard high cholesterol, the level goes up as we get older or by the age of 50 and above.
In case of inherited or High Cholesterol or FH the levels are high since birth.
High levels of cholesterol can be caused because of unhealthy food habits, obesity, lack of exercise etc.
It is a genetic condition, passed on by the parents.
|The chances of getting a heart attack or heart disease increases with age.||
The risk of having a heart disease is much higher in this case (50%), because the person has been living with high cholesterol from a long time.
Problems caused by inherited high cholesterol
People suffering from FH are unable to recycle their natural supply of cholesterol that their bodies are constantly producing. Therefore, the cholesterol levels of an individual having FH are exceedingly high. Over time the elevated blood cholesterol can lead to:
- Blockages in the arteries of the heart and/or brain.
- FH being a genetic disorder, hence when the affected child is in mother’s womb they would be “bathing” in their own high cholesterol. The process of vascular disease therefore can have its origins even prior to the children’s birth.
Treatment for inherited high cholesterol
If you wonder, can we live with high cholesterol? Then the answer is yes, because FH can be treated. If it is detected early, serious problems of the heart and blood vessels can be prevented or dramatically delayed by certain prevention methods. These include:
- No smoking
- Regular exercise
- Eating a healthy diet ,which is low in saturated and trans fat
- Regular monitoring of Lipid levels in the blood
- Taking proper medication
- Going on LDL- apheresis
Nearly 100% of people suffering with FH require cholesterol-lowering medications.
Diagnosis of inherited high cholesterol levels
Any family having a pattern of early heart attacks or heart disease, defined as before age 55 for men and 65 for women, are recommended to conduct cholesterol tests for the children in that family between the age of 2 to 10 years. Following tests are mostly recommended;
- Family history is taken
- Physical Examination: To check for the presence of fatty skin deposits.
- Lipid profile blood test: This may show high level of cholesterol, high LDL level and normal triglycerides level.
High cholesterol can be present in the genes — but you won’t know unless you get yourself tested!