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Familial hypercholesterolaemia: identification and management

Case finding and diagnosis

  • Suspect familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) as a possible diagnosis in adults with:
    • a total cholesterol level greater than 7.5 mmol/l and/or
    • a personal or family history of premature coronary heart disease (an event before 60 years in an index individual or first-degree relative)
  • Systematically search primary care records for people:
    • younger than 30 years, with a total cholesterol concentration greater than 7.5 mmol/l and
    • 30 years or older, with a total cholesterol concentration greater than 9.0 mmol/l as these are the people who are at highest risk of FH
  • For people with a personal or family history of premature coronary heart disease (an event before 60 years in an index individual or first-degree relative), but whose total cholesterol is unknown, offer to measure their total cholesterol
  • Healthcare professionals should exclude secondary causes ofhypercholesterolaemia before a diagnosis of FH is considered
  • Use the Simon Broome or Dutch Lipid Clinic Network (DLCN) criteria to make a clinical diagnosis of FH in primary care settings. This should be done by a healthcare professional competent in using the criteria
  • Refer the person to an FH specialist service for DNA testing if they meet the Simon Broome criteria for possible or definite FH, or they have a DLCN score greater than 5
  • Healthcare professionals should be aware that the absence of clinical signs (for example, tendon xanthomata) in adults and children/young people does not exclude a diagnosis of FH
  • Healthcare professionals should consider a clinical diagnosis of homozygous FH in adults with a low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) concentration greater than 13 mmol/l and in children/young people with an LDL-C concentration greater than 11 mmol/l. All people with a clinical diagnosis of homozygous FH should be offered referral to a specialist centre
  • To confirm a diagnosis of FH, healthcare professionals should undertake two measurements of LDL-C concentration because biological and analytical variability occurs
  • When considering a diagnosis of FH, healthcare professionals with expertise in FH should use standardised pedigree terminology to document, when possible, at least a three-generation pedigree. This should include relatives’ age of onset of coronary heart disease, lipid concentrations and smoking history. For deceased relatives, the age and cause of death, and smoking history should be documented. If possible, the index individual should verify this information with other family members
  • Ultrasonography of the Achilles tendon is not recommended in the diagnosis of FH
  • Coronary heart disease risk estimation tools, such as QRISK2 and those based on the Framingham algorithm, should not be used because people with FH are already at a high risk of premature coronary heart disease
  • Inform all people who have an identified mutation diagnostic of FH that they have an unequivocal diagnosis of FH even if their LDL-C concentration does not meet the diagnostic criteria
  • In a family where a DNA mutation is identified, not all family members may have inherited the mutation. When DNA testing has excluded FH in a member of a family, healthcare professionals should manage the person’s coronary heart disease risk as in the general population
  • In children aged 0–10 years at risk of FH because of 1 affected parent, offer a DNA test at the earliest opportunity. If testing of a child at risk has not been undertaken by the age of 10 years, offer an additional opportunity for a DNA test
  • In children at risk of homozygous FH because of two affected parents or because of the presence of clinical signs, for example, cutaneous lipid deposits (xanthomata), LDL-C concentration should be measured before the age of 5 years or at the earliest opportunity thereafter. If the LDL-C concentration is greater than 11 mmol/l then a clinical diagnosis of homozygous FH should be considered

Management

Drug treatment

Adults

  • 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 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 low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol concentration is not appropriately controlled either after appropriate dose titration of initial statin therapy or because dose titration is limited by intolerance to the initial statin therapy 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

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

Lifestyle interventions

  • Healthcare professionals should regard lifestyle advice as a component of medical management, and not as a substitute for lipid-modifying drug therapy

Diet

  • 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 LiveWell
  • 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

Physical activity

  • Healthcare professionals should advise people with FH to take at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day, of at least moderate intensity, at least 5 days a week, in line with national guidance for the general population
  • Healthcare professionals should encourage people with FH who are unable to perform moderate-intensity physical activity at least 5 days a week because of comorbidity, disability, medical conditions or personal circumstances to exercise at their maximum safe capacity
  • Recommended types of physical activity include those that can be incorporated into everyday life, such as brisk walking, using stairs and cycling
  • Healthcare professionals should advise people with FH that bouts of physical activity of 10 minutes or more accumulated throughout the day are as effective as longer sessions

Weight management

  • 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 guidance on obesity

Alcohol consumption

  • 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

Smoking advice

  • 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

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

Ongoing assessment and monitoring

Review

  • 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- 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

Referral for evaluation of coronary heart disease

  • Healthcare professionals should offer people with FH an urgent referral to a specialist with expertise in cardiology for evaluation if they have symptoms or signs of possible coronary heart disease which are not immediately life-threatening. A low threshold for referral is recommended
  • A person with FH with symptoms or signs of possible coronary heart disease which are immediately life-threatening (for example, acute coronary syndrome) should be referred to hospital as an emergency in line with advice for the general population
  • Healthcare professionals should consider offering people with FH a referral for evaluation of coronary heart disease if they have a family history of coronary heart disease in early adulthood, or two or more other cardiovascular risk factors (for example, they are male, they smoke, or they have hypertension or diabetes)
  • Upon diagnosis, healthcare professionals should offer all adults and children/ young people with homozygous FH a referral for an evaluation of coronary heart disease
  • In asymptomatic children and young people with heterozygous FH, evaluation of coronary heart disease is unlikely to detect clinically significant disease and referral should not be routinely offered

* This recommendation has been adapted from ezetimibe for treating primary (heterozygous-familial and non-familial) hypercholesterolaemia (NICE technology appraisal guidance 385)

© NICE 2017. Familial hypercholesterolaemia: identification and management. Available from: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/CG71. All rights reserved. Subject to Notice of rights.

NICE guidance is prepared for the National Health Service in England. All NICE guidance is subject to regular review and may be updated or withdrawn. NICE accepts no responsibility for the use of its content in this product/publication. 

First included: December 2017.

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Read the Guidelines in Practice article Familial hypercholesterolaemia: case finding, assessment, and management for more information on implementing NICE Clinical Guideline 71 on Familial hypercholesterolaemia: identification and management.