Next time your child visits their pediatrician for a check-up, you may be surprised if the doctor suggests performing a routine cholesterol screening.
Many parents think annual cholesterol checks begin in adulthood, but studies have shown that the development and progression of atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries, actually begins in childhood, and that the risk factors can be identified at an early age.
“There is increasing evidence that recognizing and managing risks early delays the progression of developing cardiovascular disease later in life,” says Elaine Urbina, M.D. M.S., Director of Preventive Cardiology at Cincinnati Children’s.
The trend of early childhood cholesterol screening is relatively new. The National Institutes of Health released new guidelines late last year recommending universal lipid screening for children ages 9 to 11 years old.
Although the test is strongly recommended, not all pediatricians feel all patients in this age range should be screened.
“However screening is important because in addition to obesity related lipid disorders, genetic disorders such as familial hypercholesterolemia can be missed if doctors rely only on a family history,” adds Dr. Urbina.
Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is an inherited disorder of high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. The condition begins at birth and can cause heart attacks at an early age. FH is very common, occurring in every 1 in 300 to 1 in 500 people. Patients at risk for FH can appear perfectly healthy and have a normal weight.
A normal total cholesterol reading for kids is somewhat less than 200 mg/dL. If a child’s cholesterol reading comes back high, repeat fast testing is performed. Diet and exercise are always the first treatment.
A child who has a normal cholesterol screening and no other obvious risk factors, should be screened again between 18 and 21 years of age.