MADISON (WKOW) — Health experts say high cholesterol is more than just a problem for adults, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating one in five kids have abnormal levels of cholesterol.
UW Health Kids states high cholesterol increases risk of heart disease, and even though it's typically an adult health concern, the hospital system is seeing an increasing number of kids being diagnosed with high cholesterol.
Dr. Amy Peterson, the director at UW Health Kids Pediatric Preventative Cardiology Clinic, says a simple cholesterol screening can help stave off heart disease or even death.
“If kids with high cholesterol get medical care early, they have a great chance of lowering their risk for heart disease before they grow into adulthood,” she said. “Lifestyle changes are never easy, but it can be less challenging for someone to change their lifestyle as a child or teenager rather than as a person in their 40s and 50s.”
In 2011, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute along with the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended children be screened for cholesterol by their primary care clinician between ages 9 and 11; and again between 17 and 21, Peterson said
She said screening for kids is especially important because they often have no symptoms.
Of the 2,500 patients UW Health Kids' Pediatric Preventative Cardiology Clinic has seen over the last 12 years, Peterson said 75% of them never would have been identified without having their cholesterol screened as part of their health check.
And 25% of the patients have a family history of heart disease— such as a parent or grandparents who suffered a heart attack or stroke, according to Peterson.
If your family has a history of heart disease, Peterson recommends getting your child screened for familial hypercholesterolemia (FH)— a gene mutation that makes it impossible for a person to remove bad cholesterol from their blood— as early as two years old.
“Nobody wants to have FH, but thankfully the sooner we find out someone has it, the better our chances of reducing risk of serious problems later in life, thanks to a combination of cholesterol medication, smart eating and regular exercise,” Peterson said.