More than 34 million Americans suffer from high cholesterol. Familial Hypercholesterolemia is an under diagnosed form of the disease marked by extremely high cholesterol and high risk of an early heart attack.
Katherine Wilemon was told she had high cholesterol at age fifteen. After suffering a heart attack at 38, doctors diagnosed her with Familial Hypercholesterolemia. "People with FH you can actually test them at birth and you would be able to tell if they had FH," said Wilemon, who established the FH Foundation. "We have cholesterol that builds up our entire lives," according to Wilemon.
First degree relatives have a fifty percent chance of having FH. When a patient is diagnosed doctors suggest cascade screening of their family members. "When we find a child who has extremely high cholesterol that is diagnostic of FH we can predict that one parent, half of their siblings, half of their other first degree relatives and a quarter of their second degree relatives will have the disease," said Dr. Bill Neal, WVU Healthcare Pediatrics. "So cascade screening means that we should screen all of the family members so we can diagnose the problem before it becomes a problem."
One in 500 people has FH and 99 percent are unaware they have the disease. The FH Foundation is creating a national registry to help patients identify if they have a relative with the disease. Wilemon says while it's scary to be diagnosed with FH, unlike other diseases, it can be exciting because treatments exist that help to manage it and nearly equalize life span. "In other words, individuals with FH have twenty fold the risk of an early heart attack but if you treat them early and find them early you can help them to have a normal life span. There's a lot of hope," according to Wilemon.
You can see the national FH registry by visiting the FH Foundation web site.