Heart Kids

Sisters Leora, 12, and Dalya, 10, are active, healthy kids.

It may come as a surprise to learn that until recently, both girls had cholesterol levels of 9.7m/mol, almost double the average amount. If left untreated, they would be at risk of a premature heart attack.

The reason for their elevated levels is Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH), a genetic condition that prevents their livers from clearing cholesterol from the blood.

FH is incredibly common, yet surprisingly unknown.

Royal Perth Hospital's Professor Gerald Watts believes there is about 80 thousand people in Australia with the condition, with the possibility of 80 percent of them not knowing they have it.

Professor Watts said if the condition goes untreated, "50 percent of men will have a heart attack by the age of 50 and about 30% of women".

"But with early detection, healthy lifestyle changes and cholesterol-lowering medication, we can delay - and in some cases even prevent - the development of coronary artery disease."

He encourages anyone with a family history of early heart disease (a heart attack prior to the age of 60), with an elevated level of cholesterol to have their child checked for FH.

An FH diagnosis can be made using a combination of blood-cholesterol testing, family history and genetic testing.

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