Helping families at risk of heart disease

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Monday, December 8th, 2014
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Familial 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.

Jenna McKee from the Newry area who has been diagnosed with FH (Familial Hypercholesterolaemia) with Julie McCullough, the Southern Trust’s newly appointed Specialist Nurse for FH and Dr Peter Sharpe, Consultant Chemical Pathologist and Associate Medical Director for Research and Development.

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.” 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.” If you think you may have FH please make an appointment with your GP who can refer you for a test.

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