Dr Chris reveals how eyes can indicate high cholesterol levels
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Overeating fatty foods is a major cause of high cholesterol. But a birth defect that can be hard to spot called familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) may also be responsible for extremely high cholesterol in many people. One person a day with FH has a heart attack, explains the British Heart Foundation (BHF). But it is possible to find out you have the condition. People who spot FH early may live as long as people without the condition.
Many people can have FH but do not experience symptoms. Professor Steve Humphris, BHF Chair of Cardiovascular Genetics at University College London explained on behalf of BHF: “You may not have any signs, as they only happen when you have FH for a long time, and some people never get any.”
The easiest way to spot high cholesterol is by visiting your GP and having your cholesterol levels checked.
But in some cases, the condition brings about three “classic” physical changes.
Professor Humphries added: “The classic signs of FH are lumps and bumps around your knuckles or Achilles tendon (caused by cholesterol deposits), yellow cholesterol build-up around the eyes and eyelids, or a pale ring around the iris of your eye.”
What is FH
FH is caused by a change in genetics that is passed down through generations.
The change stops your body from properly removing “bad” LDL cholesterol from your blood – which can lead to the buildup of fatty deposits in your blood vessels.
The presence of these blockages, known as atherosclerosis, is the main cause of a heart attack as it can stop the heart from receiving oxygen.
Atherosclerosis can also cause stroke if it restricts the blood flow to your brain.
Professor Humphries explained that FH – which affects people from birth – is worse than having a buildup that occurs later in life caused by unhealthy habits.
He said: “It’s not that the cholesterol itself is any different, but that your risk of heart disease is much higher because you’ve had high cholesterol for so much longer.
Humphries added: “The good news is that a 2008 study part-funded by the BHF found that people with FH who are diagnosed and treated before they develop heart disease generally live as long as people who don’t have FH.
“So it’s really important to get diagnosed as early as possible.”
According to NHS England “all FH patients require statin lowering therapy, which results in a highly significant reduction in CHD rates and improved life expectancy for FH patients.”
Statins work by cutting the amount of cholesterol made by the liver. They can also reduce inflammation in the walls of your blood vessels.
The cholesterol charity Heart UK recommends that everybody receives a test for high cholesterol.
“Tests are freely available specifically for people aged 40 to 74, or people at high risk of heart disease.”
People with high cholesterol, whether caused by FH or lifestyle problems, should make dietary and lifestyle changes.
Eating a balanced, healthy diet and doing regular exercise are two of the main ways to thwart the risk of heart disease.
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