Familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH) is an autosomal co-dominant disorder that markedly raises plasma low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-C) concentration, causing premature atherosclerotic coronary artery disease (CAD). FH has recently come under intense focus and, although there is general consensus in recent international guidelines regarding diagnosis and treatment, there is debate about the value of genetic studies. Genetic testing can be cost-effective as part of cascade screening in dedicated centres, but the full mutation spectrum responsible for FH has not been established in many populations, and its use in primary care is not at present logistically feasible. Whether using genetic testing or not, cholesterol screening of family members of index patients with an abnormally raised LDL-C must be used to determine the need for early treatment to prevent the development of CAD. The metabolic defects in FH extend beyond LDL, and may affect triacylglycerol-rich and high-density lipoproteins, lipoprotein(a) and oxidative stress. Achievement of the recommended targets for LDL-C with current treatments is difficult, but this may be resolved by new drug therapies. Lipoprotein apheresis remains an effective treatment for severe FH and, although expensive, it costs less than the two recently introduced orphan drugs (lomitapide and mipomersen) for homozygous FH. Recent advances in understanding of the biology of proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 (PCSK9) have further elucidated the regulation of lipoprotein metabolism and led to new drugs for effectively treating hypercholesterolaemia in FH and related conditions, as well as for treating many patients with statin intolerance. The mechanisms of action of PCSK9 inhibitors on lipoprotein metabolism and atherosclerosis, as well as their impact on cardiovascular outcomes and cost-effectiveness, remain to be established.

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