Helping Families at Risk of Heart Disease
27/10/2014Familial Hypercholesterolaemia (FH), affecting 1 in 500 people is an inherited and often symptomless condition that means their cholesterol levels are higher than normal from birth. To better manage this very treatable condition, a new service to identify people with the genetic disorder is now available from the Southern Health and Social Care Trust. Northern Ireland is one of the first countries to introduce this Family Testing programme for FH. The programme has been developed by the Public Health Agency in partnership with Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke. It is hoped that this new service will help to diagnose an additional 1,000 people with FH over the next four years and prevent the long term consequences of having a higher than normal cholesterol levels
Dr Peter Sharpe Consultant Chemical Pathologist and Associate Medical Director for Research and Development, is involved in introducing the programme in the Southern Health and Social Care Trust. Dr Sharpe explains: “Familial Hypercholesterolaemia is caused by an abnormal gene and despite putting them at high risk of early heart disease, most people don’t even know they have it. If left untreated, around 50% of males will develop heart disease by the time they are 50 and about 30% of women by the age of 60. We hope that through this new test, we will identify many more people with this disorder, allowing us to offer them treatment and advice as soon as possible to prevent the development of cardiovascular disease and improve their quality of life.”
Julie McCullough is the new Specialist Nurse for FH appointed by the Southern Trust to test families at risk and help them to manage the condition. Julie says: “If you suffer from high cholesterol levels and some of your immediate family have had a heart attack or stroke before the age of 60, you could be one of the many people with FH. As this is an inherited disorder, it is important that your children and other close family members are tested.
“Age, weight and lifestyle do not influence having FH, so as soon as you are diagnosed through a simple blood test or in some cases, with a mouth swab, we will help you to manage the condition with cholesterol lowering tablets, which substantially reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.”
Jane Nicholson from Portadown who is 61 and has been diagnosed with FH says: “My grandfather died from a heart attack and my mother had cholesterol and heart problems which she didn’t know at the time, but we have since discovered were due to FH. Thankfully my FH has been detected and with the help of a statin pill it has had no affect on my lifestyle.
“Through family testing we have now found that all of my four children also have FH. Both of my grandchildren will be tested before they are 10 years old so at least if there are any issues we will be able to treat and manage them from an early age so they can lead a normal life.”
Irene McHugh from Kilkeel who is 43 was diagnosed with FH while she was a student and despite having a very healthy lifestyle, had a particularly high cholesterol count. Irene works full time, has a young family and is a keen supporter of Chest Heart and Stroke.
She says: “There is a history of heart problems and high cholesterol in my family but thankfully as I discovered I had FH at quite a young age, I have been able to reduce my cholesterol to a more normal level using statins and it has had no major impact on my health. My daughters thankfully have been given the all clear and my son is still to be tested. Hopefully he won’t have FH, but if it is discovered at least we will be able to manage it and prevent any serious problems for him in later life.”
Jenna McKee is a Nurse from the Newry area is 25 years old. She says: “I was tested for FH after we discovered my dad has the condition. It was quite surprising as I had no symptoms, I have a normal weight and lead a fairly healthy lifestyle. I would encourage anyone who suspects they could have FH to go for the very simple test to see if they have this underlying condition. The only difference to my life since I discovered that I have FH is the need to take one statin tablet which assures me that my cholesterol is kept under control and will hopefully help to prevent any major complications as I get older.”
Clare Finnegan, from Dungannon is 28 years old and was tested for FH as her dad had the condition. She says: “As I had a 50:50 chance of having FH and having recently got married, I was keen to get tested incase I have a family of my own. I was the only one out of three siblings to test positive, but having the condition hasn’t had any impact on me. I feel healthy and lead a normal life. The only difference now is that I have one pill to take each day to keep my cholesterol levels under control. I would recommend anyone to have the very simple test. There is a history of heart problems on my dad’s side so I am glad I know about my condition so I can prevent the risk of future complications.”
If you think you may have FH please make an appointment with your GP who can refer you for a test.
To view a short video clip on FH click here.