Understanding High Cholesterol in Children


High cholesterol in children is generally caused by an inherited condition called familial hypercholesterolemia. For children with high cholesterol, a number of early warning signs can point to the possibility of high cholesterol and associated conditions.

What is Familial Hypercholesterolemia?

Familial hypercholesterolemia is a genetically inherited condition that can lead to high cholesterol and severe early onset of cardiovascular disease. Normally the body recycles natural cholesterols, including LDL-C—“bad” cholesterol—and HDL-C—“good” cholesterol. Individuals with familial hypercholesterolemia are unable to recycle these cholesterols, causing an abnormally high concentration of cholesterol in the bloodstream and negatively affecting the cardiovascular system.

Does High Cholesterol Have a 100% Genetic Transmission Rate?

No. If only one parent has familial hypercholesterolemia, there is a 50% chance that the disorder may be inherited. That chance increases when both parents have familial hypercholesterolemia, with an additional 25% chance of developing a more severe form of hypercholesterolemia called homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (HofH). HofH has much more severe cardiovascular effects.

How Can I Detect High Cholesterol in My Child?

If you know your child is at risk, early detection is important. High cholesterol in children averages at around 160 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). See a specialist to check your child’s cholesterol levels. Children usually don’t present externally detectable physical symptoms of high cholesterol, so regular monitoring is key – particularly in children below age 12, when cholesterol buildup can cause premature atherosclerosis before children reach their preteens.

What Are the Treatment Options for Familial Hypercholesterolemia?

The most important first step is early preventative measures. Speak to your doctors about monitoring and discuss care plans before the condition begins to escalate. For younger children, target LDL-C levels should be at 130 mg/dL or lower. This can be accomplished through a combination of diet, medication, and exercise. Nutritionists and health specialists can provide you with information on healthy lifestyle regimens that can significantly contribute to reducing and controlling high cholesterol. Doctors can prescribe medications based on your child’s needs, with types of medications including bite acid sequestrants (BAS). Most doctors recommend waiting until age 8 to begin prescription medicine regimens.

How Can I Support My Child With High Cholesterol?

Lifestyle changes are one of the most important ways to encourage healthy habits that will improve your child’s cholesterol. Adjust not just your child’s diet, but your entire family’s diet, so that eating healthy foods that promote good cholesterol becomes a shared family activity that doesn’t exclude your child from eating with parents and siblings. Find sports and activities that allow the family to exercise together, encouraging play and adding an enjoyable element to maintaining a healthy body. If there are any smokers in your family, encourage them to quit or find places to smoke where your child won’t be exposed to secondhand effects. Be open to talk to your child about their concerns regarding their cholesterol, and when they’re old enough make active efforts to educate them on their health so they can make independent healthy choices.

High cholesterol in children doesn’t have to be a frightening diagnosis. With early detection, a supportive family structure, attentive care, and educated medical practitioners, high cholesterol can be treated and managed to allow a normal, active life.

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