Health

Genetic test for 'familial' heart risk extended

blood tests Image copyright TEK IMAGE/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

More people in England are to be offered a blood test to check if they have a genetic risk of heart disease.

As many as 320,000 people in the UK have familial hypercholesterolaemia - an inherited condition that causes dangerously high cholesterol levels.

Left undiagnosed and untreated, up to half of those with FH will develop heart disease before they are 60.

Testing is already available at seven centres in England. Four more will now be added to the list.

Scotland and Northern Ireland also do FH cascade testing and Wales has comprehensive service funded by the government.

People are offered the blood test if they and/or their doctor think they could have FH.

If they are found to have FH, their closest blood relatives - brothers, sisters and children - should get tested too.

With cholesterol-lowering drug treatment, lifestyle advice and careful monitoring, people with FH can have the same life expectancy as those without FH.

The British Heart Foundation is giving £900,000 towards the programme which is being run at the following trusts:

  • University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (new FH testing service)
  • York Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust (new FH testing service)
  • NHS Western Isles (new FH testing service)
  • Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (new FH testing service)
  • Royal Brompton & Harefield NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust
  • South Yorkshire Cardiothoracic Centre
  • Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust
  • North East Cardiovascular Network
  • NHS Grampian/North of Scotland Cardiac Network
  • University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust

The charity says this will still not be enough to check all the people they believe are at risk.

Some parts of the country, such as Norfolk and Suffolk, do not have a testing centre nearby.

Prof Steve Humphries, an expert in FH, said: "I'd estimate there's still about three-quarters of the UK population that isn't adequately covered.

"In England it's a postcode lottery at best."

This means that people are having heart attacks that could have been prevented, he says.

Joanne Whitmore, the FH clinical lead at the British Heart Foundation, said: "If high cholesterol is left unchecked, fatty materials can build up in your arteries, increasing your risk of heart disease.

"FH is easily treated, so no family should have to go through the pain of seeing a loved one have a heart attack that could have been prevented. It's important to talk to your doctor if you think FH runs in your family."

The UK National Screening Committee is reviewing whether or not to take on the job of FH testing.

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