High cholesterol is a dangerous condition that raises a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke. Surprisingly, though, high cholesterol is not just an adult problem; it can also affect children. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children between the ages of 9 and 11 be screened for high cholesterol.
Growing levels of childhood obesity are largely to blame for this requirement. But many people, including children, suffer from inherited high cholesterol, which is not related to their diet and lifestyle choices. This condition is known as familial hypercholesterolemia (FH), and it causes a harmful level of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the blood. LDL is often referred to as “bad cholesterol”. When left untreated, high levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Early detection and following hypercholesterolemia guidelines are the keys to preventing these premature cardiovascular events in children with this condition.
How Is Familial Hypercholesterolemia Detected in Children?
Genetic testing can confirm the presence of FH. However, a child’s pediatrician may be able to make a diagnosis based solely on a child’s medical and family history. If a child has high cholesterol levels that have not improved with diet and lifestyle changes and there is a family history of heart disease, there’s a good chance that they could have familial hypercholesterolemia.
Are There Any Physical Signs of the Disease?
There are often no visible signs of familial hypercholesterolemia, which is why doctors rely on family history when making a diagnosis. Some people, however, may exhibit physical symptoms if their LDL levels are extremely high. These include:
- Bumps around the knuckles, elbows, or knees caused by excess cholesterol deposits.
- Swollen or painful Achilles tendons.
- Yellow areas around the eyes, or a white arc near the colored part of the eye.
What Is the Treatment?
FH is usually treated with a combined approach to therapy, using medication along with lifestyle changes to manage the disease. A pediatrician can prescribe the correct medication and make dietary recommendations. A child’s weight will also be monitored to ensure that it stays within a healthy range.
As with most diseases, early detection and treatment are the keys to staying healthy. By working with a pediatrician and following hypercholesterolemia guidelines for managing the disease, children with this condition can significantly reduce the odds of having a cardiac event early in their lifetime.