Just last week, my youngest had a routine physical exam. It was a big exam; as she just turned 5 and will be entering kindergarten later this year, which meant some routine vaccinations (AKA shots) and a finger prick test. And while I’m sure we could spend a great amount of time discussing the vaccines she received, what I’d rather do this time around is turn the focus to the finger prick test she received.
Now in my office, we’ve always done a finger prick test at age 5 to check the child’s hemoglobin, to assess for possible anemia. But over the past year, as new guidelines and recommendations have appeared, we now also perform a cholesterol screening test at the same time. From this prick, we can check the total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and the triglyceride levels. Now the official recommendations that have come from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and have since been endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) as well, recommended testing somewhere between 9-11 years of age.
In our office, however, we’ve found by starting at age 5; it helps parents keep in mind the importance of healthy eating and routine physical activity, regardless of what the test values show. Granted, a 5-year-old doesn’t necessarily understand what the test is all about, but again, it serves as a reminder of healthy lifestyle practices even at a younger age. And no, this doesn’t mean your child can’t eat deserts, but maybe he shouldn’t be eating an ice-cream sundae every night after dinner.
Furthermore, testing at younger ages also allows us to identify those children who have elevated cholesterol numbers secondary to familial hyperlipidemias. And it is these children who will often benefit from beginning cholesterol lowering medications (typically the statins) to reduce the potential risk of a serious cardiac events down the line. And while I’ve never seen a 5 year-old on a statin, I have seen children in the 9-11 year age range taking one.
So if your child’s physician is not checking cholesterol levels (at least by the 9-11 year-old age range,) don’t hesitate to ask for some testing to be performed. Your child deserves it.
- Dr. Jeremy
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