People often view high cholesterol as a condition that only affects adults. However, high cholesterol levels can also cause problems in children, including heart disease and even stroke.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that comes from a person’s liver. It is also present in certain food products. The body uses cholesterol in the production of cells, vitamins, and hormones.
However, high levels of cholesterol can cause issues for people of all ages.
There are two main forms of cholesterol. The first, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — which doctors refer to as “bad” cholesterol, can build up on artery walls, which may cause blockages.
The other primary type, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is called “good” cholesterol, helps carry LDL cholesterol away from the arteries.
It is important that all individuals ensure they have healthy cholesterol levels. This article explores what leads to high cholesterol in children, its symptoms, and the treatment options.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 1 in 5 adolescents are affected by high cholesterol.
The following table includes information from the AHA regarding levels of cholesterol in children and adolescents aged 0–19 years.
Health experts measure cholesterol levels in the blood using milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).
|Type of cholesterol||Acceptable levels (mg/dl)||Borderline levels (mg/dl)||Abnormal levels (mg/dl)|
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) notes that children
- a family history of early heart disease, which is 55 years or younger for males and 65 years or younger for females
- having a parent with high cholesterol
Additionally, the NHLBI recommends that a child have their cholesterol levels tested between the ages of 9–11 years. They should then undergo a cholesterol screening every 5 years or sooner, depending on certain risk factors.
There are various reasons why a child may have high cholesterol levels, such as diet or certain health conditions.
Saturated and trans fats are types of fat in certain foods. These types of fats can cause the liver to make more cholesterol than the body requires.
If a child’s diet contains high amounts of saturated and trans fats, it can lead to high cholesterol levels.
Foods that contain saturated or trans fats include:
- high fat cheese
- high fat meats
- whole fat milk and cream
- ice cream
- palm and coconut oils
- processed goods, such as cookies, potato chips, and fried foods
To maintain a nutritious diet, the AHA recommends that a child aged 2–3 years receive a total fat intake of 30–35% from their daily calories. The organization also suggests that children aged 4–18 years receive 25-35% fat from their daily calories.
A child living with diabetes can put them at increased risk of developing high cholesterol levels.
Diabetes can cause a condition called
A 2016 study found that out of 202 children with diabetes, 26.2% had dyslipidemia. However, further research is needed to determine the frequency of the condition in children with diabetes in the United States.
Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fatty deposits, known as plaque, build up in a person’s arteries. Plaque consists of:
- fatty substances
- cellular waste
- fibrin, a clotting agent in the blood
The exact cause of atherosclerosis is unknown, although doctors believe it develops in childhood.
While it is unlikely to cause issues in children, atherosclerosis can cause health complications if it develops further during adulthood.
Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a genetic condition that can lead to high cholesterol. According to the FH Foundation, the disease affects 1 in 250 people worldwide.
FH causes high amounts of LDL cholesterol due to a mutation in a gene responsible for removing cholesterol from the body. If the body cannot remove cholesterol correctly, it can build up in the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis.
The condition is genetic — an individual with FH has a 50% chance of passing it on to their children.
According to the National Library of Medicine, children do not usually have any symptoms of high cholesterol. A child should have their cholesterol levels checked routinely, particularly if they have risk factors.
Having high levels of cholesterol can put a child at risk of developing the following conditions:
- heart disease
- heart attack
- chronic kidney disease
There is little information regarding the treatment of high cholesterol in children. However, guidance from the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions suggests the following lifestyle changes:
- eating more fruit and vegetables
- using vegetable oils and soft margarine in place of butter or animal fat
- replacing refined-grain bread and cereals with wholegrain substitutes
- reducing the intake of sugary foods and beverages
- using low fat or nonfat milk
- eating more fish and lean cuts of meat
- removing skin from poultry
- reducing salt intake
- learning about balanced diets and suitable portion sizes
- exercising for around 60 minutes per day
Additionally, to reduce the chances of children developing high cholesterol, the AHA recommends that parents or caregivers take the following measures:
- discouraging cigarette smoking
- encouraging regular exercise
- knowing how to identify and treat high blood pressure
- helping a child maintain a moderate weight
- encouraging a healthy diet
- knowing the symptoms of diabetes
Additionally, statins, a form of cholesterol-lowering medication, may be beneficial when treating high cholesterol in children.
A parent or caregiver should ensure they take their child to have their cholesterol levels checked routinely. Generally, there are no symptoms of high cholesterol in children, so frequent testing is essential.
If a parent or guardian notices any of the following symptoms of heart problems in a child, they should contact their doctor:
- not eating
- not gaining weight
- excessive sweating
- fast breathing
- shortness of breath
- abnormal heart rhythm
- passing out
- physically being unable to keep up with other children
In older children
- abnormal heartbeat
- passing out during exercise
- excessive shortness of breath
High cholesterol can affect people of any age. In children, it can be due to diet or various health conditions.
Since there are usually no symptoms of high cholesterol in children, they should have their levels tested every 5 years or more frequently, depending on risk factors and recommendations from a doctor. Children with risk factors for high cholesterol can have their cholesterol levels tested from 2 years of age.
Treatments for high cholesterol in children usually involve lifestyle changes. However, there are short-term cholesterol-lowering medications.
If a person notices any signs of heart problems in their child, they should contact a doctor.