High cholesterol has traditionally been a problem for adults, but in recent years there has been evidence to show that high cholesterol in children is a growing problem. In fact, about 20 percent of children and teens have unhealthy levels of cholesterol. This is evidence of a problem that should be taken seriously by parents and health care providers. Why do high cholesterol levels matter? Too much cholesterol can lead to excessive plaque in the arteries and might block blood flow to the heart. These measurements indicate trouble with the heart and an increased risk of heart diseases, and could point to a larger, underlying problem, such as habits of inactivity or unhealthy eating. The measurements might signal discrepancies between levels of good cholesterol and bad cholesterol.
The Causes of High Cholesterol
One way to begin correcting childhood heart diseases is to learn to recognize the causes of high cholesterol in children. Some young people experience high cholesterol levels because of their family history. Heredity can’t be prevented, but an awareness of the risk can lead parents to take protective steps. Other causes include diet and obesity. A large majority of children with high cholesterol have parents who also have elevated levels.
Recognizing the Problem
Unfortunately, there are no symptoms of high cholesterol in children. If you’re worried that your child is at risk, you should schedule an appointment with your family doctor to have your child screened. If cholesterol is a problem and no corrective steps are taken, your child could experience complications due to the accumulation of the substance. Deposits in the arteries might lead to chest pain and heart disease, decreased blood flow and a heart attack or decreased blood flow to the brain.
Preventative Actions You Can Take
Parents who want to protect their children from the health effects of high cholesterol can visit with their children’s health care providers to get answers. Screening typically involves a simple blood test. Some experts recommend that all children, regardless of risk, have the cholesterol screening between the ages of 9 and 11 and then again soon after the teen turns 17. Screening is strongly recommended for those children with a family history of elevated levels or heart disease and for those children with a body mass index above the 85th percentile, especially if the children are exposed to cigarette use, diabetes and high blood pressure. Treatment may involve evaluation and counseling with a health care provider. The causes of high cholesterol in children may be discussed, as well as recommendations for reducing the risks.
Protecting Your Children
Once you are aware of the growing problem of high cholesterol in children, you’ll be able to take the first steps toward protecting your children. With this awareness, you might make adjustments to your family diet or encourage increased physical activity. If you have a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol, you might be particularly alert to these positive actions. With routine screenings and preventative actions, you could help reduce your child’s risk of high cholesterol.