Taunya English’s story is part of a project on health in the states, a partnership between WHYY, NPR and Kaiser Health News.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer in the United States and cholesterol testing is one of the ways doctors detect early signs of trouble. Now there are new screening guidelines.
The new recommendation is to give children their first cholesterol test between ages 9 and 11. Before this week, the standard start date was 20.
Pediatric cardiologist Dr. Samuel Gidding, who cares for kids at A.I. duPont Hospital in Delaware, helped write the new guidelines.
“The question is: ‘Is there value in knowing that value at age 10 versus age 20?’ The answer is ‘yes’ for a couple of reasons,” he said.
Gidding said early, universal screening may lead to better preventive care for children with multiple risks for heart disease—such as being overweight, having diabetes or high blood pressure.
Early testing could also help doctors spot a somewhat rare genetic disorder that causes elevated levels of the “bad” cholesterol, LDL. The condition, familial hypercholesterolemia, can cause heart attacks at an early age.
When a doctor spots a lipids problem in a child, Gidding says, medication is rarely the first fix.
“It’s not just high cholesterol, it could be high triglycerides, or low HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol,” Gidding said. “For the vast, vast, vast majority of children, it’s diet and exercise that’s the cornerstone of pediatric therapy.”
Gidding says those who reach old age after a lifetime of low risk for heart disease are less costly to the medical system.
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute gathered experts to craft the new guidelines.