Lipid Labwork in Children: Understanding the Numbers and When to Seek Help for Dietary Changes

As adults, our primary care physicians often instruct us to have labs drawn to check our blood lipid levels. Most of us lipid panelprobably know someone who is on a “lipid lowering” medication for high cholesterol levels. These same labs are also being drawn more often for kids, especially if there is a family history of hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) or heart disease, or if the child is overweight or obese. Read on to understand what these labs look for in children, what the numbers mean, and what you should do after getting results.

The “lipid panel,” as the lab is called, measures these lipids that circulate in the bloodstream:

  • LDL cholesterol:  LDL cholesterol is associated with a risk for heart disease. The goal result for LDL cholesterol is <100 mg/dL, and <130 is considered acceptable.
  • HDL cholesterol:  HDL cholesterol is the “good” kind of cholesterol that scoops up the “bad” kind and helps get rid of it. The goal result for this type of cholesterol is >40 mg/dL. The higher the HDL is, the better, in most cases.
  • Total Cholesterol:  This number reflects LDL+HDL as well as other lipid components. The goal result for this blood draw is <200 mg/dL. If HDL is exceptionally high, it may elevate total cholesterol above 200, which is less concerning since high HDL is considered healthy.
  • Triglycerides:  Triglyceride level reflects circulating lipids that have been packaged into a triglyceride form after digesting fats from the food you eat. They are also made in the body and stored in adipose tissue as fat. The goal result for triglycerides is <150 mg/dL.

It is important to have your child fast before getting labs drawn that measure lipids, because after digestion, the fats in foods circulate in the bloodstream and can falsely elevate a blood test. Another thing to remember is that cholesterol is a precursor used in the body to make hormones. When kids are going through puberty, hormone production is at an all time high, and therefore blood cholesterol levels may be somewhat elevated for this reason. This is a different etiology than elevated cholesterol due to dietary and lifestyle choices.

If your child gets results back that are concerning to you or your physician, it is recommended to seek a nutrition consult with a registered dietitian. The dietitian can analyze the child’s diet to make recommendations that will help improve the lipid panel, and thus improve your child’s health picture.

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