Cardiovascular disease often refers to angina, heart attack and stroke. Clinical Associate Professor David Sullivan explains the significance of family history and cholesterol in cardiovascular disease, the importance of promoting awareness about the inherited risk of CVD, and the concept of familial cascade screening.


Hello, I’m Clinical Associate Professor David Sullivan, a Lipidologist at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. I joined the advisory board of the Virtual Cardiac Centre two years ago and today I’d like to share with you my insights on familial aspects of cardiovascular disease prevention.

A recent campaign encouraged members of the general public to enquire about their family history in terms of health related information because this can greatly assist in personalized medical care.

What should you do if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease at an early age amongst first degree relations such as parents, siblings, children or secondary relatives such as aunts, uncles and cousins?

The term cardiovascular disease often refers to angina, heart attacks and stroke. Recent changes of the pharmaceutical benefits scheme highlight the importance of identifying people who have a relative who has suffered any of these conditions before age forty-five.

The family history is also regarded as positive for premature cardiovascular disease if angina, heart attack, or stroke occurred in two relatives before age fifty-five.

Much of the risk associated with a family history of premature cardiovascular disease can be detected by medical assessment and reduced by treatment. There is a particular need to identify families in which there is an inherited risk in cholesterol that affects half the members of the family.

This condition, which is referred to as Familial hypercholesterolemia, should be considered if second degree relatives suffered cardiovascular disease before age fifty or if first degree relatives suffered the problem before age sixty.

If untreated, this condition can accelerate the onset of cardiovascular disease by ten to forty years. But cholesterol lowering treatment can avoid this problem. Sometimes patients with this condition develop lumps of cholesterol in their Achilles tendons of the back of the heel. This may cause discomfort and enlargement but it also warns of the presence of the problem.

Efforts are now underway to improve awareness about this condition in particular, and the inherited risk of cardiovascular disease in general. This should lead to medical teams working with families to ensure that they have checked for cardiovascular risk factors and brought them to the attention of their doctor if they are found to be present.

Thank you for watching this item and I hope you really enjoy the rest of your day.