Cholesterol Levels by Age in Children, Adults and the Elderly

The average normal levels of cholesterol and triglycerides vary according to the age of the individual. The recommendations for the values are different for children, adults, and the seniors or the elderly people. They also vary according to the gender and the weight of the person.

Age is a significant risk factor both in men and women that can increase your total cholesterol and LDL levels. It, however, has little impact on HDL.

That simply means that with increasing age and rising cholesterol levels, you become a potential candidate for heart disease and stroke. It is, therefore, mandatory that you check your lipid levels as recommended.

But, if you observe the recommended do’s of a proper diet, physical activity, maintaining a good weight, and ignore the bad don’ts of a sedentary life, smoking, and alcohol overindulgence, you are safe.

The equation being that a drop of 10 percent in your total cholesterol levels decreases your risk of heart disease by 20 percent

Having high cholesterol can be a problem at any age. Getting a test done to figure out your average levels, whether as a child, adult or an elderly person can well predict your life’s morbidity.

The reason being high values can herald a potent cardiovascular disease, which could put restrictions on your active life.

The key is to follow a lifestyle that will help keep the cholesterol levels low and you should incorporate that lifestyle in early life. Following the good rules after you develop a cholesterol problem may be too late because a plaque could already have formed in an artery, which could disturb the blood flow to a vital organ of the body.

According to the U.S. government’s National Cholesterol Education Program, or NCEP, being older than 45 years in men and older than 55 years in women carries a potential risk for having a cholesterol problem.

Cholesterol changes in women

Women, before menopause, have a better HDL cholesterol (the good cholesterol) level than men and better total and LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) levels than men because of the protective action of the estrogen hormone during the premenopausal age. Estrogen is believed to help clear the LDL particles from the blood circulation.

After menopause, LDL levels tend to rise. HDL levels usually tend to fall or they might remain the same.

Women who pass through menopause before the age of 45 are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, while those who go through menopause at a later age have a lower risk. Research shows that cholesterol levels for women increase at menopause along with other risk factors for heart disease.

Again, metabolic syndrome is quite prevalent in menopausal women. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of health conditions, which include diabetes, hypertension, obesity, a large abdominal girth and an abnormal lipid metabolism. Metabolic syndrome is an extremely high-risk factor for coronary artery disease (CAD) because each of the conditions mentioned above is by itself a high-risk factor.

Cholesterol and triglyceride levels in children

Though it is generally believed that high cholesterol is a condition of adults, current guidelines recommend that all children be tested for it. An estimate allows that 22% of American adults in their 20s have elevated cholesterol levels. For that young age, it is quite a bit.

Medical research shows that cardiovascular disease begins in childhood.  According to the American Heart Association, there is definite evidence that the cholesterol buildup in arteries begins in childhood and is a potential cause of premature heart disease.

There is a strong evidence that atherosclerosis begins in late adolescence and early adulthood. Furthermore, raised cholesterol levels in young adulthood significantly increase the risk of developing coronary artery disease (CHD) later in life.

Statistics indicate an alarming rise in cardiovascular disease in adults, generally due to the wrong lifestyle and the tensions of everyday living.

Testing for cholesterol in children, therefore, becomes important. Any correction, if needed, can be carried out at this young age with proper lifestyle, diet and physical activity and future calamities can be avoided.

The recommendation differs slightly for children who are associated with high-risk factors and for those who are not.

Children who are physically active, stick to a generally healthy diet and with normal weight are at a lower risk of having high cholesterol. Such children need to be checked between ages 9 and 12 and then again between ages 17 and 21.

But, those who are bookworms or couch potatoes with very little physical activity, regularly consuming junk food and sweetened aerated drinks, and being overweight are at risk. Add to it a family history of diabetes and high cholesterol, and you have a potential candidate who requires being tested more early. Such high-risk children should be checked between ages 2 and 8 and again between ages 12 and 16 years.

The National Institute of Health recommends the following desired levels  in children:

Total Cholesterol

  • Good or normal: 170 mg/dL or lower
  • Borderline: 170 to 199 mg/dL
  • High: 200 mg/dL or higher

 LDL

  • Good: 110 mg/dL or lower
  • Borderline: 110 to 129 mg/dL
  • High: 130 mg/dL or higher

HDL

  • Good: 45 mg/dL or higher
  • Borderline: 40 to 45
  • Low: 40 mg/dL or lower

 Triglycerides

Good:

  • ages 0 to 9 years : 75 mg/dL or lower
  • ages 10 to 19: 90 mg/dL or lower

Borderline:

  • ages 0 to 9 : 75 to 99 mg/dL
  • ages 10 to 19: 90 to 129 mg/dL

High:

  • ages 0 to 9 : 100 mg/dL or higher
  • ages 10 to 19: 130 mg/dL or higher

If your child’s blood report shows any abnormal numbers, it is advisable to test again after two weeks in the same fasting state before starting treatment.

Cholesterol and triglyceride levels in adults

It is estimated that 62% of adults in their 50s have high cholesterol.

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (or mg/dl), which is the standard international form of measuring cholesterol. Some countries use the mmol/L units (millimoles per liter). Here is a post that compares the values measured in both these units.

Below is a breakdown showing the average normal and elevated or undesired levels in adults.

Total cholesterol blood levels

Total cholesterol is the total amount of cholesterol in the blood and includes low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) along with other lipids.

  • Desirable levels —   less than 200 mg/dl
  • Borderline high  —  200 to 239  mg/dl
  • High                     —  above 240   mg/dl

LDL cholesterol blood levels

Low-density lipoprotein is transported in the blood from the liver, where it is manufactured, to the various parts of the body to be taken up by the body cells.

Higher levels of LDL mean more amount of this waxy sticky substance floating in the blood stream.

The extra LDL cholesterol that is not used by the body causes plaques to be deposited on the inner surface of the arterial walls. This reduces the lumen of the arteries and over time as the plaque increases in size, the plaque can block the artery. This is called atherosclerosis.

Blockage of the coronary arteries of the heart causes coronary artery diseases, which include angina and heart attack.

Heart arteries are particularly vulnerable because they are narrow and can get blocked early leading to loss of supply to the part of the heart muscle the artery supplies blood. This is the basic cause of a heart attack.

  • Optimal               –   Less than 100
  • Near optimal      —  100 to 129
  • Borderline high  –  130 to 159
  • High                      —  150 to 189
  • Very High            —   above 190.

HDL cholesterol blood levels

HDL carries the excess unused LDL from the blood to the liver from where it is passed out through the bile into the small intestine for excretion.

The higher the levels of HDL, the better it is for your health because HDL removes the excess LDL from the blood and that keeps LDL levels in blood within normal limits.

  • Optimal               – more than 60 – lower risk of heart disease
  • Low in men        — less than 40 –  higher risk factor for heart disease
  • Low in women   – less than 50  –  higher risk factor for heart

Triglycerides levels

Triglycerides are the chemical form of fats, which exists in the food and your body. With higher levels of blood triglycerides levels, you are at a greater risk of having coronary artery disease. High levels make the blood thick and sludgy increasing the risk of clot formation.

  • Normal level        —  Less than 150
  • Borderline High —  150 to 199
  • High                      —  200 to 499

Cholesterol levels in the elderly

An elderly person is defined as one who is aged 65 years or older. The very elderly are those who fall in the age group of 80 years and more.

Having too much cholesterol increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease in young and middle-age adults, but, according to the National Institute of Health, in the elderly, this association is less established.

LDL transports about 60% of the plasma cholesterol to the body tissues and HDL removes about 30% of it from the blood to the liver for excretion.

It also helps to reduce the atherosclerotic plaques that may have formed. That is why high HDL levels are encouraged.

In the normal process, the cholesterol concentration increases with age. It begins to rise from puberty till the age of 45 to 55 years in men and ten years later in women.

After that, it then starts to reduce possibly due to reduced synthesis of LDL cholesterol because of decreased liver function. You should know that 80% of the body cholesterol is manufactured in the liver. Another reason is that LDL receptors that are responsible for removing the bad cholesterol from your blood become less active as you age.

Cholesterol levels in the older adults depend on the lifestyle habits (smoking for instance), physical activity, diet and any associated metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and hypothyroidism.

Epidemiological studies conducted in different countries have shown a greater prevalence of high cholesterol levels in later life. Western countries lead the group with a high incidence of complications such as cardiovascular disease and death.

Treatment guidelines for lowering cholesterol in seniors

However, there are differing studies indicating different guidelines concerning treating high cholesterol in seniors. Some indicate the benefits of using cholesterol-reducing drugs such as statins in elderly people because statins reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

While some studies indicate that statins do not add to any benefits. Tt, therefore, boils down to whether the old person is associated with risk factors or not.

The high-risk category includes those elderly individuals with:

  • A previous history of coronary heart diseases (CHD) such as heart attack, angioplasty, a bypass operation, or an abnormal stress test.
  • A total cholesterol level of 200 mg/dl or greater, or an LDL level of 130 mg/dl.
  • Older individuals without prior CHD history but total cholesterol levels of 240 or an LDL level 160 with the presence of at least one other major risk factors, such as hypertension, diabetes, smoking, or an HDL cholesterol level less than 35 mg/dl.

Currently, studies indicate that treatment of high-risk individuals who are 65 years or older with drugs is beneficial and reduces the chances of a CHD incident.

Again, according to another study, low cholesterol levels were independently associated with short-term mortality among elderly hospitalized patients.

In the case of the very elderly, 80 years and older with high cholesterol and with or without a risk factor, should be treated with cholesterol reducing drugs.

Such seniors should take the periodic blood test to check their cholesterol levels at intervals as specified.

 

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