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08 December 2015 07:14
An inherited genetic fault can trigger dangerously high cholesterol levels
Around a quarter of a million Britons may be in danger of suffering an early heart attack because of an inherited gene that raises cholesterol levels, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF).
The genetic condition causes familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), something that leaves people with dangerously high levels of cholesterol from birth.
That significantly raises their chances of having a heart attack and, if left untreated, can cut life expectancy by up to 30 years.
It had previously been thought that around 125,000 people in the UK are living with the FH gene.
The BHF says although it now thinks double that number could have the inherited gene, only around 20,000 of them are being treated for FH at specialist clinics. The charity believes that identifying and treating everyone with the genetic fault could save up to 25,000 lives.
High cholesterol levels are linked with various heart conditions, something which can be covered among holidaymakers by a specialist medical travel insurance policy.
The BHF now wants to see a testing programme introduced throughout the country in a bid to identify families affected by the inherited gene.
That would potentially enable adults and children above the age of 10 to be prescribed with statins to reduce their cholesterol levels.
The charity's medical director, Professor Peter Weissberg, says while FH is often referred to as a "hidden killer" the gene does not have to remain hidden and the condition does not have to prove fatal.
He says once FH has been identified, its treatment to prevent heart disease is straightforward.
But Professor Weissberg says awareness of FH needs to be raised to make sure that it does not leave future generations living with a high risk of suffering an early heart attack.
The charity says moves to establish FH services have not been quick enough. It is now paying for 25 specialist nursing posts to be set up at more than a dozen locations.
But it says a nationwide testing programme needs to be rolled out to find everyone with the faulty gene and give them and their relatives the treatment they need.
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