Cholesterol and FH: Getting Control

cholesterol-and-fh

Having high levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol can lead to serious cardiovascular health problems, which is why it’s so important to keep cholesterol under control. For people with familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), that can prove to be a life-or-death matter.

 

She was with friends at a restaurant when the sweats suddenly hit her. That’s all it was, just sweating. A hot flash, perhaps? “We were joking that ‘40 is the new 60’ and this was the world’s biggest hot flash! For about 25 minutes, I was uncomfortable but not enough to go home,” said Wenter Blair, describing those odd sensations just a few years ago. “I got back to the house later, and I was still thinking it was just a hot flash … the next morning I got up and called my OB/GYN, and she said she wanted me in the office right now. So I went in — she met me at the front door and immediately hooked me up to an EKG machine. When it was done, she said, ‘Honey, you had a heart attack last night.’”

It took three more heart attacks, several heart procedures and the insight of a leading cardiologist to get to the bottom of what was really wrong with Wenter Blair: She has familial hypercholesterolemia, better known as FH. Blair, the co-founder and a member of the Founding Board of Directors of The FH Foundation, has taken her frightening experiences and turned them into a major cause: educating all who need to know about the very real threat FH poses to their lives.

So what is cholesterol, and what is FH?

Understanding Cholesterol

Let’s start with cholesterol. Cholesterol is absolutely necessary to life. Your cells use this fat-like, waxy substance to repair and make more cells, among other essential purposes. Your body makes cholesterol naturally, and you may get more cholesterol from the food you eat — in particular, animal products, such as meats, dairy, eggs and other types.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some 71 million American adults have high LDL-cholesterol, and only about one-third have it under control. But what does it mean to have “high cholesterol”? There are three main types of cholesterol:

  • LDL or Low-Density Lipoprotein cholesterol (sometimes referred to as the “bad” kind), which can build up inside the arteries and form substances called plaques. Plaques can choke off the blood flow inside the arteries, which in time can cause blockages in the arteries serving the heart or brain—possibly leading in time to a heart attack or stroke. It’s wise to keep LDL-cholesterol levels at low levels.
  • HDL or High-Density Lipoprotein cholesterol (sometimes referred to as the “good” kind), which can help remove LDL-cholesterol from the bloodstream. A higher level of HDL-cholesterol is desirable.
  • Triglycerides, another type of fat that can accumulate inside the artery walls. As with LDL-cholesterol, it’s good to keep triglyceride levels low.

When people say “I have high cholesterol,” they’re usually talking about their LDL-cholesterol level. Although different guidelines disagree about what a healthy level of LDL-cholesterol is, the National