Health Watch -- Cholesterol Testing

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

When should people start getting their cholesterol checked? Probably earlier than you think.

Many of us think of high cholesterol as something to worry about when we're older. But there may be good reason to test even young children. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say high cholesterol left untreated is a major risk factor for heart disease. If potential problems are found early, there's more that can be done to prevent future problems.

Dr. Sarah Blumenschein, a UT Southwestern pediatrician, suggests that if heart disease runs in the family or if family members have had strokes before the age of 55, children should have their cholesterol checked for the first time by the age of 6. This is important because there aren't really any symptoms for high cholesterol, and by the time most people start getting their cholesterol checked in their 30s or 40s, damage may already have been done.

Lifestyle changes would be the first measure to take for children with high cholesterol. Learning good habits at an early age may give them a good foundation for a healthier life. Teens with high cholesterol can be a real challenge for doctors because they often rebel against restrictions on what they can eat, and the foods they enjoy are often the foods that are bad for them. Doctors try to counsel the whole family when a teen has high cholesterol so they can all become aware of how what they eat affects their health.