Pediatric cholesterol? Wait — what?
It’s not something just adults need to watch for anymore. The next time you bring your child to the doctor’s office for a checkup, you may have the option to screen for high cholesterol.
If you’re wondering if screening for childhood cholesterol is new, the answer is yes, fairly new. The push came from the American Heart Association within the last few years; the American Academy of Pediatrics supported this endeavor.
One reason may be due to the growing concern about childhood obesity. Another reason may include the importance of catching high cholesterol early, and then reintroducing healthy behaviors before bad habits take root.
Besides weight, cholesterol levels are also dependent on family history, diet and level of activity.
“Even though it seems unusual to screen at such a young age, it has a huge potential to turn your child’s health around,” said Samuel Schimelpfenig, MD, Pediatrician and Sports Medicine Physician at Avera Medical Group McGreevy 7th Avenue. “In childhood, you can completely reverse the effects cholesterol has caused in the body.”
It’s not only one time that the American Heart Association recommends screening young people, but twice. First, between ages 9 and 11, and then about 10 years later between ages 17 and 21.
Cholesterol and the body
Cholesterol, which flows through the bloodstream on lipoproteins, comes from two sources.
Your body manufactures all of the cholesterol it needs to aid in such processes as digestion and making hormones. However, cholesterol is also present in the food you put into your body — particularly egg yolks, dairy, poultry and meat products.
When low-density lipoproteins (bad cholesterol) bind with fatty substances and other materials, plaque can build up against artery walls. High-density lipoproteins (good cholesterol) remove bad cholesterol from the arteries.
Though accompanied by virtually no symptoms, excess cholesterol in the bloodstream may lead to problems down the road.
“No, kids aren’t going to have heart attacks at the age of 10,” said Schimelpfenig. “Still, left undetected and untreated, the progression of high cholesterol will cause a number of issues within the cardiovascular system during adulthood.”
Plaque deposits can cause a total blockage in an artery, causing instant and deadly situations like heart attack or stroke.
High cholesterol is also known in playing a part in other chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis (hardened arteries), diabetes and high blood pressure.
Just like adults, screening for children involves a simple blood test for elevated levels of cholesterol and triglycerides.
For best results, children should be screened after a night of fasting. Understandably, it’s difficult to expect a child to not eat for a length of time. Try scheduling the appointment as early as possible in the day.
“Physicians will still screen children if they haven’t fasted,” said Schimelpfenig. “Inform your doctor if your child has eaten as to explain any elevated levels from the blood test. From there, he or she will determine if your child needs any further testing.”
Fortunately, most children who are diagnosed with high cholesterol can lower it through diet and exercise. But remember, children are too young to understand what cholesterol is and the danger it can pose, so this responsibility largely rests on the parents.
In more extreme cases, however, children may be put on cholesterol-reducing medicine, such as Lipitor®.
“In the home, it’s important for parents to not single out the child who is struggling with cholesterol,” advised Schimelpfenig. “Get the whole family involved by eating cholesterol-friendly meals and going for walks after dinner rather than eating dessert.
Think about this: If one person has high cholesterol, there is a good chance the whole family could benefit from a healthier lifestyle. And the best way to do that is by doing it together.”
Get more information about children’s health and parenting tips at AveraChildrens.org