Cholesterol is a type of fat in the blood. It is needed for building hormones and cells. Everyone needs to have some cholesterol in their blood. Having too much cholesterol, however, is a problem.
What you eat affects the level of cholesterol in your blood. Cholesterol comes from animal products such as meat, eggs, and dairy products. If you eat less cholesterol and saturated fat, you will have less cholesterol in your blood.
Cholesterol has several parts: high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and triglycerides. HDL is called "good" cholesterol because it carries cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver. The liver helps the body get rid of cholesterol. The LDL is called "bad" cholesterol. If you have too much LDL, cholesterol builds up in the arteries. As a result your arteries become clogged. The HDL, LDL, and triglycerides together are called "total cholesterol."
People who have higher-than-normal levels of cholesterol have a higher risk of developing clogged or narrowed blood vessels that carry blood to the heart muscle. Lower cholesterol levels can reduce the risk of heart disease or a heart attack.
Reducing cholesterol levels with proper diet and exercise gives teens a better chance of having low cholesterol when they are adults.
Normal levels of total cholesterol in teens are between 120 and 170 mg/dl. After age 18, the levels considered to be normal rise about 1 point per year of age. Levels between 171 and 200 mg/dl are considered to be borderline high. Levels higher than 200 mg/dl in teens are high.
Levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol, should be over 60 mg/dl in teens. A borderline value is between 40 and 60 mg/dl. A low or abnormal value is less than 40 mg/dl in teens.
The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommend that all children between ages 9 and 11 have cholesterol tests. Another cholesterol test should be done between ages 17 and 21.
If the test results show the cholesterol level is normal, but you are at high risk, your cholesterol should be checked every 3 to 5 years. You’re at high risk if you:
If your total cholesterol level is borderline high (between 171 and 200), you will start a program that includes a low-fat diet and exercise. Your total cholesterol will probably be rechecked every year
Teens with total cholesterol greater than 200 will have a lipid panel test. This test measures the levels of LDL, HDL, and triglycerides, as well as total cholesterol. These levels will be checked again after 2 to 4 months of treatment. Usually the test is done the first thing in the morning, before you eat or drink anything except water. You must be fasting for the test to be accurate.
You may need to take medicine to lower cholesterol if:
Talk with your healthcare provider about what is best for you.
If you have high cholesterol, everyone in your family should have their total cholesterol checked. Very often the close relatives of teenagers with high cholesterol also have high cholesterol. It is often helpful to start the whole family on a healthier diet and exercise program.