The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends all children between 9 and 11 years old are screened for high blood cholesterol levels due to the growing epidemic of obesity in children.
In this article we would be looking at Cholesterol Levels in Children and Adolescents.
In addition, the AAP recommends cholesterol testing for the following groups of children:
- Those whose parents or grandparents have had heart attacks or have been diagnosed with blocked arteries or disease affecting the blood vessels, such as stroke, at age 55 or earlier in men, or 65 or earlier in women
- Those whose parents or grandparents have total blood cholesterol levels of 240 mg/dL or higher
- Those whose family health background is not known (eg, many adopted children), or those who have characteristics associated with heart disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, or obesity
For children in these categories, their first cholesterol test should be after 2 years but no later than 10 years of age.
What causes high cholesterol in children and Adolescents?
Three main factors contribute to high cholesterol in children and teens:
- An unhealthy diet, especially one that is high in fats
- A family history of high cholesterol, especially when one or both parents have high cholesterol
Some diseases, such as diabetes, kidney disease, and certain thyroid diseases, can also cause high cholesterol in children and teens.
What are the symptoms of high cholesterol in children and teens?
There are usually no signs or symptoms that your child or teen has high cholesterol.
How do I know if my child or teen has high cholesterol?
There is a blood test to measure cholesterol levels. The test gives information about:
- Total cholesterol – a measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood. It includes both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
- LDL (bad) cholesterol – the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries
- HDL (good) cholesterol – HDL helps remove cholesterol from your arteries
- Non-HDL – this number is your total cholesterol minus your HDL. Your non-HDL includes LDL and other types of cholesterol such as VLDL (very-low-density lipoprotein).
- Triglycerides – another form of fat in your blood that can raise your risk for heart disease
For anyone aged 19 or younger, the healthy levels of cholesterol are
|Type of Cholesterol
|Less than 170mg/dL
|Less than 120mg/dL
|Less than 100mg/dL
|More than 45mg/dL
When and how often your child or teen should get this test depends on his or her age, risk factors, and family history. The general recommendations are:
- The first test should be between ages 9 to 11
- Children should have the test again every 5 years
- Some children may have this test starting at age 2 if there is a family history of high blood cholesterol, heart attack, or stroke
What are the treatments for high cholesterol in children and teens?
Lifestyle changes are the main treatment for high cholesterol in children and teens. These changes include:
- Being more active. This includes getting regular exercise and spending less time sitting (in front of a television, at a computer, on a phone or tablet, etc.)
- Healthy eating. A diet to lower cholesterol includes limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar, and trans fat. It is also important to eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Losing weight, if your child or teen is overweight or has obesity
If everyone in the family makes these changes, it will be easier for your child or teen to stick to them. It is also an opportunity to improve your health, and the health of the rest of your family.
Sometimes these lifestyle changes are not enough to lower your child or teen’s cholesterol. Your health care provider may consider giving your child or teen cholesterol medicines if he or she:
- Is at least 10 years old
- Has an LDL (bad) cholesterol level that is higher than 190 mg/dL, even after six months of diet and exercise changes
- Has an LDL (bad) cholesterol level that is higher than 160 mg/dL AND is at high risk for heart disease
- Has an inherited type of high cholesterol
Diagnosis and Tests
- Cholesterol Levels (National Library of Medicine)Also in Spanish
Treatments and Therapies
- Cholesterol – drug treatment (Medical Encyclopedia)Also in Spanish
- How to Lower Cholesterol: MedlinePlus Health Topic (National Library of Medicine)Also in Spanish
- Familial combined hyperlipidemia (Medical Encyclopedia)Also in Spanish
- Familial hypercholesterolemia (Medical Encyclopedia)Also in Spanish
- High cholesterol – children (Medical Encyclopedia)Also in Spanish
- ClinicalTrials.gov: High Cholesterol in Children and Teens (National Institutes of Health)
A child may have high cholesterol for a variety of reasons such as obesity, diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease, or an underactive thyroid. If an initial test shows high cholesterol, your pediatrician will check your child’s blood again at least 2 weeks later to confirm the results. If it is still high, the doctor will also determine if your child has an underlying condition.
A recent government report indicated that there is good evidence that children with cholesterol problems become adults with high cholesterol. So it is important to monitor the cholesterol of children who may have an increased risk of elevated cholesterol.
I hope you find this article helpful as well as interesting.