The use of Achilles tendon ultrasonography for the diagnosis of familial hypercholesterolemia

Atherosclerosis. 2001 Aug;157(2):514-8. doi: 10.1016/s0021-9150(01)00533-0.


Differentiating FH from other causes of hypercholesterolemia has important clinical and therapeutic implications but is often not possible by standard clinical criteria. As accumulation of cholesterol in tendon is generally considered as pathognomonic of FH, we evaluated the sensitivity and specificity of clinical and ultrasonographic tendon characteristics using the data of 127 genetically ascertained FH and 160 controls with various lipid profiles. Upon clinical examination, none of the controls and 29% of FH individuals (17% FH women and 38% FH men) presented with xanthomata in Achilles tendons, but no female and only 6% of male FH patients also showed xanthomata in the extensor tendon of the hand. Amongst all possible quantitative parameters (thickness, breadth, section and roundness) of Achilles tendon (AT) measured by ultrasonography, the thickness presented the best receiver operating curves. AT thickness above 5.8 mm was the most useful threshold for diagnosis of FH, procuring sensitivity of 75% and specificity of 85%. Analysis of variation of AT thickness with age and sex indicated that this clinical criterion performed better in females older than 45 and in males under 45. In patients carrying the APOB-R3500Q mutation, AT-thickness appeared significantly less important compared with those carrying LDLR mutations. In conclusion, this study recommends identification of possible FH individuals amongst hypercholesterolemic patients using a criteria of AT-thickness over 5.8 mm eventually associated with a specific genetic test for APOB-R3500Q mutation.

MeSH terms

  • Achilles Tendon / diagnostic imaging*
  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology
  • Apolipoproteins B / genetics
  • Female
  • Hand / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Hyperlipoproteinemia Type II / diagnostic imaging*
  • Hyperlipoproteinemia Type II / genetics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Muscular Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Muscular Diseases / genetics
  • Mutation / physiology
  • ROC Curve
  • Receptors, LDL / genetics
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Tendons / diagnostic imaging
  • Ultrasonography
  • Xanthomatosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Xanthomatosis / genetics


  • Apolipoproteins B
  • Receptors, LDL