Women's health * Men's health * 50+ health

NHS failing to screen for deadly heart condition

NHS not routinely testing for killer disease 100,000 undiagnosed in UK

The NHS is failing to screen up to 100,000 people in the UK who are at high risk of heart disease caused by an inherited condition, despite government recommendations, a report reveals.

Familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) is an inherited condition which causes high levels of LDL cholesterol, which leads to early heart disease.

If left untreated, around half of men with FH will develop heart disease by the time they reach 55, and around one third of women by the age of 60. Because FH is genetic, half of the first degree relatives of someone with the condition - brother, sister, child - will also be affected.

However, an audit of more than 2,400 FH patients carried out by the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) found that few families were genetically screened for the condition despite NICE guidelines.

Around 120,000 people in England have the condition, as many as have Type I diabetes, and 85 per cent of cases are currently undiagnosed, says the RCP.

Early treatment with statins and lifestyle changes have been shown to reduce risk and improve life expectancy to normal. Identifying those with FH would save lives, prevent heart disease and reduce costs to the NHS in the long-term.

While care of patients with FH was found to be generally good, the audit also found that there are not enough facilities for diagnosing and treating children with FH.

Professor Steve Humphries, Director of the Centre for Cardiovascular Genetics at the British Heart Foundation Laboratories, said: “Although the audit shows that, once identified, patients with FH are being quite well treated in NHS lipid clinics, the lack of commissioned DNA testing and resources for tracing relatives mean that many FH patients remain undiagnosed.

"In the UK, I estimate that roughly one undiagnosed FH patient a day suffers a coronary event that could be prevented if funding for these cost-effective measures were available.”

This article was published on Tue 25 January 2011

Image © Olga Gabai - Fotolia.com

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