This specialist Guidelines summary covers identifying and managing familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH). It aims to help identify people at increased risk of coronary heart disease as a result of having FH. This summary is intended for use by cardiologists working in a secondary care setting.
Please refer to the full guideline for the complete set of recommendations, including case finding, diagnosis, and referral for evaluation of coronary heart disease.
Identifying People with FH Using Cascade Testing
- Carry out cascade testing using DNA testing to identify affected first- and second- and, when possible, third-degree biological relatives of people with a genetic diagnosis of FH.
- Healthcare professionals should offer all people with FH a referral to a specialist with expertise in FH for confirmation of diagnosis and initiation of cascade testing.
- Healthcare professionals with expertise in FH should explain what is meant by cascade testing, and discuss its implications with all people with FH.
- Healthcare professionals should be aware of the latest guidance on data protection when undertaking cascade testing.
- When offering lipid-modifying drug therapy to adults with FH, healthcare professionals should inform the person that this treatment should be lifelong.
- Offer a high-intensity statin with the lowest acquisition cost as the initial treatment for all adults with FH and aim for at least a 50% reduction in low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) concentration from the baseline measurement.
- The dose of statin should be increased to the maximum licensed or tolerated dose to achieve a recommended reduction in LDL-C concentration of greater than 50% from baseline (that is, LDL-C concentration before treatment).
- Ezetimibe monotherapy is recommended as an option for treating primary heterozygous-familial hypercholesterolaemia in adults in whom initial statin therapy is contraindicated.
- Ezetimibe monotherapy is recommended as an option for treating primary heterozygous-familial hypercholesterolaemia in adults who cannot tolerate statin therapy.
- Ezetimibe, co-administered with initial statin therapy, is recommended as an option for treating primary (heterozygous-familial) hypercholesterolaemia in adults who have started statin therapy when:
- serum total or LDL-C concentration is not appropriately controlled (see below) either after appropriate dose titration of initial statin therapy or because dose titration is limited by intolerance to the initial statin therapy (see below) and
- a change from initial statin therapy to an alternative statin is being considered.
- When prescribing ezetimibe co-administered with a statin, ezetimibe should be prescribed on the basis of lowest acquisition cost.
- For the purposes of this guidance, appropriate control of cholesterol concentrations should be based on individualised risk assessment according to national guidance on managing cardiovascular disease in the relevant populations.
- For the purposes of this guidance, intolerance to initial statin therapy is defined as the presence of clinically significant adverse effects that represent an unacceptable risk to the patient or that may reduce compliance with therapy.
- Prescribing of drug therapy for adults with homozygous FH should be undertaken within a specialist centre.
- Healthcare professionals should offer adults with FH a referral to a specialist with expertise in FH if treatment with the maximum tolerated dose of a high-intensity statin and ezetimibe does not achieve a recommended reduction in LDL-C concentration of greater than 50% from baseline (that is, LDL-C concentration before treatment).
- Healthcare professionals should offer adults with FH a referral to a specialist with expertise in FH for consideration for further treatment if they are assessed to be at very high risk of a coronary event, that is, if they have any of the following.
- established coronary heart disease
- a family history of premature coronary heart disease
- two or more other cardiovascular risk factors (for example, they are male, they smoke, or they have hypertension or diabetes).
- For recommendations on managing primary heterozygous familial hypercholesterolaemia in people whose LDL-C levels are not adequately controlled despite maximal tolerated lipid-lowering therapy, see the NICE technology appraisal guidance on alirocumab and evolocumab.
- Adults with FH with intolerance or contraindications to statins or ezetimibe should be offered a referral to a specialist with expertise in FH for consideration for treatment with either a bile acid sequestrant (resin) or a fibrate to reduce their LDL-C concentration.
- The decision to offer treatment with a bile acid sequestrant (resin) or a fibrate in addition to initial statin therapy should be taken by a specialist with expertise in FH.
- Healthcare professionals should exercise caution when adding a fibrate to a statin because of the risk of muscle-related side effects (including rhabdomyolysis). Gemfibrozil and statins should not be used together.
Children and Young People
- Healthcare professionals should offer all children and young people diagnosed with, or being investigated for, a diagnosis of FH a referral to a specialist with expertise in FH in children and young people. This should be in an appropriate child/young person-focused setting that meets the standards within the National service framework for children, young people and maternity services.
- Lipid-modifying drug therapy for a child or young person with FH should usually be considered by the age of 10 years. The decision to defer or offer lipid-modifying drug therapy for a child or young person should take into account:
- their age
- the age of onset of coronary heart disease within the family, and
- the presence of other cardiovascular risk factors, including their LDL-C concentration.
- When offering lipid-modifying drug therapy for children or young people, healthcare professionals should inform the child/young person and their parent/carer that this treatment should be lifelong.
- Offer statins to children with FH by the age of 10 years or at the earliest opportunity thereafter.
- For children and young people with FH, consider a statin that is licensed for use in the appropriate age group.
- Statin therapy for children and young people should be initiated by a healthcare professional with expertise in treating children and young people with FH, and in a child-focused setting.
- Statin therapy for children and young people with FH should usually be prescribed at the doses specified in the 'British national formulary (BNF) for children.’
- In exceptional instances, for example, when there is a family history of coronary heart disease in early adulthood, healthcare professionals with expertise in FH in children and young people should consider offering:
- a higher dose of statin than is licensed for use in the appropriate age group, and/or
- more than one lipid-modifying drug therapy, and/or
- lipid-modifying drug therapy before the age of 10 years.
- In children and young people with homozygous FH, LDL-C concentration may be lowered by lipid-modifying drug therapy and this should be considered before LDL apheresis (see the section on Specialist Treatment).
- In children and young people with FH who are intolerant of statins, healthcare professionals should consider offering other lipid-modifying drug therapies capable of reducing LDL-C concentration (such as bile acid sequestrants [resins], fibrates or ezetimibe).
- Routine monitoring of growth and pubertal development in children and young people with FH is recommended.
Adults and Children/Young People
- Decisions about the choice of treatment should be made following discussion with the adult or child/young person and their parent/carer, and be informed by consideration of concomitant medication, comorbidities, safety and tolerability.
- Healthcare professionals should consider offering fat-soluble vitamin (vitamins A, D and K) and folic acid supplementation for adults or children/young people with FH who are receiving long-term treatment with bile acid sequestrants (resins).
- Healthcare professionals should offer people with FH a referral to a specialist with expertise in FH if they are experiencing side effects that compromise concordance with lipid-modifying drug therapy.
- When the decision has been made to offer adults or children/young people with FH treatment with a statin, baseline liver and muscle enzymes (including transaminases and creatine kinase, respectively) should be measured before initiation of therapy. However, people with raised liver or muscle enzymes should not routinely be excluded from statin therapy.
- Routine monitoring of creatine kinase is not recommended in asymptomatic adults or children/young people with FH who are receiving treatment with a statin.
- Healthcare professionals should regard lifestyle advice as a component of medical management, and not as a substitute for lipid-modifying drug therapy.
- All people with FH should be offered individualised nutritional advice from a healthcare professional with specific expertise in nutrition.
- People with FH should be advised to consume a diet in which:
- total fat intake is 30% or less of total energy intake
- saturated fats are 10% or less of total energy intake
- intake of dietary cholesterol is less than 300 mg/day
- saturated fats are replaced by increasing the intake of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
- It may be helpful to suggest they look at Live Well for further practical advice.
- Healthcare professionals should advise people with FH to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, in line with national guidance for the general population. Examples of what constitutes a portion can be found at Live Well.
- Healthcare professionals should advise people with FH to consume at least two portions of fish a week (one of which should be oily fish). Pregnant women with FH should be advised to limit their oily fish to two portions a week. Further information and advice on healthy cooking methods can be found at Live Well.
- Healthcare professionals should advise people with FH that if they wish to consume food products containing stanols and sterols these need to be taken consistently to be effective.
- People with FH should not routinely be recommended to take omega-3 fatty acid supplements. For people with FH who have already had a myocardial infarction (MI), refer to the NICE guideline on myocardial infarction.
- Healthcare professionals should advise people with FH to undertake physical activity in line with national guidance for the general population (see the UK Chief Medical Officers' physical activity guidelines for more information).
- Healthcare professionals should encourage people who are unable to perform moderate-intensity physical activity because of comorbidity, medical conditions or personal circumstances to exercise at their maximum safe capacity (see the UK Chief Medical Officers' physical activity guidelines for more information).
- Recommended types of physical activity include those that can be incorporated into everyday life, such as brisk walking, using stairs and cycling (see the UK Chief Medical Officers' physical activity guidelines for more information).
- Healthcare professionals should offer people with FH who are overweight or obese appropriate advice and support to achieve and maintain a healthy weight in line with NICE's guideline on obesity prevention.
- As for the general population, alcohol consumption for adult men with FH should be limited to up to 3–4 units a day, and for adult women with FH up to 2–3 units of alcohol a day. Binge drinking should be avoided. Further information can be found at Live Well.
- People with FH, especially children, who do not smoke should be strongly discouraged from starting because of their already greatly increased risk of coronary heart disease.
- People with FH who smoke should be advised that, because of their already greatly increased risk of coronary heart disease, they should stop.
- Healthcare professionals should offer people who want to stop smoking support and advice, and referral to an intensive support service, in line with the NICE guidance on smoking cessation.
- People with FH who are unwilling or unable to accept a referral to an intensive support service should be offered pharmacotherapy in line with NICE guidance on nicotine replacement therapy and bupropion, and varenicline. See NICE guidance on smoking cessation, including NICE's technology appraisal guidance on varenicline for smoking cessation.
- Healthcare professionals should consider offering LDL apheresis for the treatment of adults and children/young people with homozygous FH. The timing of initiation of LDL apheresis should depend on factors such as the person's response to lipid-modifying drug therapy and presence of coronary heart disease.
- In exceptional instances (such as when there is progressive, symptomatic coronary heart disease, despite maximal tolerated lipid-modifying drug therapy and optimal medical and surgical therapy), healthcare professionals should consider offering LDL apheresis for the treatment of people with heterozygous FH. This should take place in a specialist centre on a case-by-case basis and data recorded in an appropriate registry.
- Healthcare professionals should recommend arterio-venous fistulae as the preferred method of access for people with FH who are offered treatment with LDL apheresis. People should be counselled about possible benefits and complications of this procedure.
- Routine monitoring of the person's iron status should be carried out and iron supplementation initiated as required for people with FH who are receiving treatment with LDL apheresis.
- Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors should not be used in people with FH who are being treated with LDL apheresis. Instead, ACE inhibitors should be substituted with angiotensin-receptor blocking agents.
- People with FH who are receiving blood pressure-lowering drug therapy should have this reviewed and considered for discontinuation on the morning of the day of LDL apheresis.
- People with FH who are taking warfarin should have this discontinued approximately 4 days before LDL apheresis and substituted with low molecular weight heparin.
- People with FH who are receiving anti-platelet therapy should have this continued if they are receiving treatment with LDL apheresis.
- Healthcare professionals should consider offering liver transplantation as an option for the treatment of people with homozygous FH after treatment with lipid-modifying drug therapy and LDL apheresis.
- The decision to refer for liver transplantation should take place in partnership with the patient and/or their relatives in an appropriate specialist setting, following a discussion of the benefits and potential harms of undertaking or declining transplantation.
Information Needs and Support
General Information and Support
- During the assessment and communication of familial risk, people should receive clear and appropriate educational information about FH, the process of family testing, DNA testing and the measurement of LDL-C concentration.
- A healthcare professional with expertise in FH should provide information to people with FH on their specific level of risk of coronary heart disease, its implications for them and their families, lifestyle advice and treatment options.
- Healthcare professionals with expertise in FH should encourage people with FH to contact their relatives to inform them of their potential risk and so that cascade testing can take place.
- When considering cascade testing, a healthcare professional with expertise in FH should offer to facilitate the sharing of information about FH with family members.
- Healthcare professionals should offer people with FH and their families written advice and information about patient support groups.
Information and Counselling on Contraception for Women and Girls with FH
- When lipid-modifying drug therapy is first considered for women and girls, the risks for future pregnancy and the fetus while taking lipid-modifying drug therapy should be discussed. This discussion should be revisited at least annually.
- Healthcare professionals should give women and girls with FH specific information tailored to their needs and should offer a choice of effective contraceptive methods.
- Combined oral contraceptives (COCs) are not generally contraindicated for women and girls being treated with lipid-modifying drug therapy. However, because there is a potential small increased risk of cardiovascular events with the use of COCs, healthcare professionals should consider other forms of contraception. Prescribers should refer to the summary of product characteristics of COCs and the relevant lipid-modifying drugs for their specific contraindications.
Information for Pregnant Women with FH
- Healthcare professionals should be aware that, in general, there is no reason to advise against pregnancy or breastfeeding in women with FH.
- Healthcare professionals should advise women with FH that lipid-modifying drug therapy should not be taken if they are planning to conceive or during pregnancy, because of the potential risk of fetal abnormality. Women should be advised that lipid-modifying drug therapy should be stopped 3 months before they attempt to conceive.
- Women with FH who conceive while taking statins or other systemically absorbed lipid-modifying drug therapy should be advised to stop treatment immediately and they should be offered an urgent referral to an obstetrician for a fetal assessment. Women should be fully informed about the nature and purpose of the assessment.
- Women with FH who have conceived while taking statins or other systemically absorbed lipid-modifying drug therapy and have had a fetal assessment should be given time, opportunity and full information to consider their options (including the advantages and disadvantages) of continuing with their pregnancy.
- Shared-care arrangements, to include expertise in cardiology and obstetrics, should be made for women with FH who are considering pregnancy or are pregnant. Such care should include an assessment of coronary heart disease risk, particularly to exclude aortic stenosis. This is essential for women with homozygous FH.
- Serum cholesterol concentrations should not be measured routinely during pregnancy.
- Women with FH who are pregnant should be advised on the potential risks and benefits of re-starting lipid-modifying drug therapy for the mother and breastfed infant. Resins are the only lipid-modifying drug therapy that should be considered during lactation.
Ongoing Assessment and Monitoring
- All people with FH should be offered a regular structured review that is carried out at least annually.
- A baseline electrocardiogram (ECG) should be considered for adults with FH.
- Healthcare professionals should record the progress of cascade testing among the relatives of a person with FH as part of the structured review. This should include at least the first- and second-degree relatives- and, when possible, third-degree biological relatives. If there are still relatives who have not been tested, further action should be discussed.
- Healthcare professionals should update the family pedigree of a person with FH and note any changes in the coronary heart disease status of their relatives as part of the structured review. This should include at least the first- and second- and, when possible, third-degree biological relatives.
- Structured review should include assessment of any symptoms of coronary heart disease and smoking status, a fasting lipid profile, and discussion about concordance with medication, possible side effects of treatment the patient may be experiencing, and any changes in lifestyle or lipid-modifying drug therapy that may be required to achieve the recommended LDL-C concentration.