Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is made in the liver. The body needs a certain level of cholesterol to function properly, but too much cholesterol can increase a child’s risk of developing dangerous conditions later in life.
Cholesterol is found in certain foods made from animals and animal products, including dairy products, eggs and meat. Convenience foods and fast foods are also often high in cholesterol and fats.
There are two types of cholesterol in the body:
This "bad cholesterol" can build up and block the arteries, leading to a serious complication like a heart attack or stroke, and is often increased by eating foods high in saturated fats, trans fats and dietary cholesterol.
This “good cholesterol” helps return the LDL cholesterol to the liver for elimination from the body. A healthy diet and exercise can increase levels of HDL, which may help protect against heart disease.
If your child has borderline-high or high cholesterol caused by high HDL, rather than LDL, he or she is probably not at an increased risk for heart disease.
Hypercholesterolemia typically doesn’t cause any symptoms until a serious event, such as a stroke or heart disease. If you or other members of your family have high cholesterol, you should have your child’s cholesterol levels checked to make sure they are in healthy ranges.
High cholesterol can be tested for and diagnosed through a simple blood test called a fasting lipid profile. Your child’s doctor will order follow-up blood tests to check if his or her levels decrease over time.
Your child’s doctor will also calculate his or her BMI and ask about family history and dietary habits. And, the doctor may order a blood test to rule out hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), which can cause high cholesterol.
High cholesterol levels in children are usually linked to one or more of these risk factors:
If your child is diagnosed with high cholesterol, your doctor will recommend dietary changes and increased exercise. Your child should eat a varied, healthy diet – high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats and trans fats. If he or she has an underlying health condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure, the doctor will prescribe treatments for that issue.
In some cases, the doctor will prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications.
Your child’s cholesterol levels and treatment effectiveness will be monitored through follow-up appointments. Follow your doctor’s recommendation for dietary changes and exercise. Embrace healthy habits as a family by staying active and eating a diet low in unhealthy fats.