Hyperlipidemia in Children

Hyperlipidemia (dyslipidemia) is abnormal levels of lipids, or fats, in the blood. The two most common lipids are cholesterol and triglycerides.

High cholesterol and high triglycerides can affect children and adults. Having high cholesterol or triglycerides is a risk factor for heart attacks and other types of coronary heart disease. However, treatment can greatly reduce these risks and allow children to lead full, healthy lives.

Pediatric Hyperlipidemia Causes and Risk Factors

When high cholesterol or triglycerides build up in the blood, they can block the arteries. This can lead to heart attack, stroke or other problems. Common causes of hyperlipidemia in children include:

  • Genetics: Some inherited conditions affect the way the body processes cholesterol. People with these conditions may have high cholesterol or triglycerides and a higher heart disease risk. Genetic hyperlipidemia is called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH).
  • Diabetes: Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes can lead to high lipid levels.
  • Diet and obesity: Processed foods and foods high in saturated and trans fats may cause high cholesterol levels in children. Hyperlipidemia is also more common in children who have obesity.

Hyperlipidemia Symptoms

Hyperlipidemia may not cause symptoms, so many children don’t know they have it until they get a blood test.

Some types of genetic (inherited) hyperlipidemia can cause:

  • Fatty bumps on the skin (xanthomas)
  • Grayish-white rings around the corneas in the eyes (corneal arcus)

Hyperlipidemia Diagnosis

A blood test known as a lipid panel can measure cholesterol and triglycerides. This test involves taking a blood sample from the arm with a needle. Your child may need to avoid eating or drinking anything but water for several hours before the test.

Because hyperlipidemia often causes no symptoms, children need regular lipid panels to detect it. Your child’s doctor can tell you how often your child needs this test.

Hyperlipidemia Treatment

High cholesterol or high triglycerides in children can increase the risk of heart disease. Treatment can restore blood lipids to normal levels and greatly decrease this risk.

Treatment for hyperlipidemia in children may include:

  • Lifestyle changes: Nutritionists can offer guidance on how to lower cholesterol with a healthy diet. Other lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise, can also help.
  • Medications: Familial hypercholesterolemia often does not respond to lifestyle changes alone. Children with FH may need medications to manage their lipids.
  • Diabetes management: Type 1 diabetes can cause high lipids and may require care from an endocrinologist and cardiologist. Children who have Type 1 diabetes may need to take prescribed medications to manage their blood sugar (glucose) and lipids.
  • Regular monitoring: Your child’s pediatrician or cardiologist may order regular cholesterol and triglyceride tests. These tests allow your child’s doctor to check treatment progress.

Hyperlipidemia Treatment at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Learn more about the treatment options we offer for high cholesterol and triglycerides in our Preventive Care Program.