High Cholesterol in Children

High cholesterol is a higher than normal level of cholesterol in the blood. It is more common in adults but can occur in children. There are two main types of cholesterol. One is high density lipoproteins (HDL) or good cholesterol. High levels of HDL have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. The second type is called low density lipoproteins (LDL) or bad cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to blockages in the blood vessels. This can lead to heart attacks and strokes .

  • Causes

    High cholesterol may be caused by a combination of factors, such as:

    • A high-fat diet and low activity levels
    • Being overweight or obese
    • Being prone to high cholesterol due to your genes

  • Definition

    High cholesterol is a higher than normal level of cholesterol in the blood. It is more common in adults but can occur in children.

    There are two main types of cholesterol. One is high density lipoproteins (HDL) or good cholesterol. High levels of HDL have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease. The second type is called low density lipoproteins (LDL) or bad cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to blockages in the blood vessels. This can lead to
    heart attacks and strokes.

    Heart Attack
    Heart Attack
    Blockages in the blood vessels can lead to heart attacks.
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  • Diagnosis

    Screening tests help doctors identify children who have high cholesterol. The screening recommendations are:

    • 2-8 years old— no screening needed unless there are risk factors
    • 9-11 years old—should be screened at least once
    • 12-17 years old—no screening needed unless there are risk factors
    • 17-21 years old—should be screened at least once

    Screening is done by testing the lipid levels in the blood, for example:

    • Total cholesterol (the total amount of cholesterol in the blood)
    • HDL—good cholesterol
    • LDL —bad cholesterol
    • Triglycerides (type of fat that can also help predict the risk of future heart disease)

    Note:
    Normal cholesterol levels are different for children than for adults. The doctor will use different cut-off points for diagnosing high cholesterol in your child.

    In addition to the blood test, the doctor will:

    • Ask about your child’s symptoms.
    • Take your child’s medical history.
    • Do a physical exam.

  • Prevention

    For most children, high cholesterol can be prevented with healthy lifestyle habits such as:

    • Eating a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
    • If your child is overweight, follow a safe weight loss program. Use a program recommended by your doctor or dietitian.
    • Encourage your child to participate in physical activity on a regular basis.
    • Talk to your child about the dangers of smoking.
    • Be a good role model for your child. For example, eat healthy food and participate in physical activities as a family.

  • Risk Factors

    Risk factors include:

    • Obesity
    • Having a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease or stroke
    • Having high blood pressure
    • Smoking
    • Having certain conditions (eg, diabetes, kidney disease, underactive thyroid)
    • Some medicines (eg, steroids, isotretinoin [acne medicine], beta-blockers, protease inhibitors, diuretics, cyclosporin)

  • Symptoms

    High cholesterol does not usually cause any symptoms.

  • Treatment

    Lifestyle changes are a very important part of treatment.