Covid raises heart attack risk in people with high cholesterol

People with genetic high cholesterol, heart disease or both, and infected with Covid-19 can be more at risk of heart attacks, according to new research.

Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a common genetic condition that increases an individual’s risk for cardiovascular disease by up to 20-fold due to lifelong elevated low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels.

The study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Cardiology, also confirms that Covid-19 increases heart attack rates in individuals with established atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD).

“Probable FH” individuals with pre-existing ASCVD who contracted Covid had heart attacks at a seven-times greater annual rate than their counterparts who did not contract the virus, the researchers said.

“This study is a call to action to diagnose individuals with this deadly genetic condition who are hiding in plain sight within our healthcare system, and take particular precautions related to Covid-19 infections. FH is an untapped opportunity for heart disease prevention,” said Mary McGowan, chief medical officer for the FH Foundation. For the study, the team performed an analysis of 55,412,462 individuals, separating groups into six matched cohorts including diagnosed FH, probable FH, and ASCVD, with and without Covid-19 infection.

The researchers found that rates of heart attacks were highest in those with a Covid-19 diagnosis and the presence of diagnosed FH or probable FH with known ASCVD. “These results are significant because these data underscore the importance of understanding if individuals have underlying cardiovascular disease or genetic high cholesterol when treating for Covid-19 infection or considering vaccination,” said Kelly Myers, chief technology officer of the FH Foundation.