This article is part of our special report Cardiovascular disease and cholesterol.
SPECIAL REPORT / Growing rates of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes have been on the agenda for a long time, with poor diets and sedentary lifestyles focusing most of the attention. But other silent and sometimes unknown killers will take centre stage at a major health conference in Scotland.
The European Atherosclerosis Society (EAS) will host its 83rd conference in Glasgow this week. The event aims to facilitate scientific discussion about new developments in basic research, diagnosis and therapy of atherosclerosis, a cardiovascular condition involving the hardening and narrowing of the arteries.
The conference, to be attended by an estimate 2,000 delegates, will also highlight diseases in the arteries that are rarely mentioned, and sometimes unrelated to lifestyle, but rather to genes.
These include familial hypercholesterolaemia, or FH, a genetic disorder characterised by high cholesterol levels.
In February this year, some MEPs questioned the European Commission over the lack of information available about bad cholesterol, an illness that now affects 54% of Europeans, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A report by the Cardiovascular Resource Group from 2011 found that 133.3 million people in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK suffer from bad cholesterol.
Roberta Metsola, an MEP from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), and Marlene Mizzi from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, expressed their concern over the rate at which high levels of bad cholesterol are increasing in Europe, and the dangers this could pose to citizens.
Metsola and Mizzi accused the EU and individual member states of not doing enough to protect their citizens from the dangers of high cholesterol.
In his response, Vytenis Andriukaitis, the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said that although the Commission does not have any specific programmes dedicated to fighting bad cholesterol, several initiatives exist that focus in part on researching or raising awareness about the dangers of the condition.
For a condition such as FH, more screenings could be the way forward as patients with high cholesterol levels often don’t have any symptoms. The most common problem in FH is the development of coronary artery disease at a much younger age than would be expected in the general population.
In December 2014, Professor Alberico Catapano, the president of the EAS, also spoke at a conference in the European Parliament, saying that early screening is essential, and can help diagnose FH in a whole family.
“If you detect one person, in many families you can then detect three others people with FH. So this is a very cost-effective medicine,” he said.
Catapano said the European Parliament should consider pushing an EU-wide registry to tackle the huge disparities between European countries when it comes to FH screening.
But once FH is detected, following the treatment is not always easy. A recent study in the US showed that around 40% of women suffering from bad cholesterol are not able to follow the medicines regiment needed to control their disease.
In the study by Women Heart, the mean medication adherence rate among the women who took part in the survey was only 62%.
The women cited poor doctor-patient communication, medication cost, and resistance from insurance companies to approve preferred medications and specialist visits as the main reasons for failing to follow their treatment.