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Health Checkup: Cholesterol

Dr. Jeff Schussler
Dr. Jeff Schussler

By Sam Baker, KERA Morning Edition Host

Dallas, TX –

In a recent report, the American Pediatrics Association and other medical groups advised cholesterol screening for all children nine to 11 years old. In our KERA Health Checkup, Sam Baker talked about this with Dr. Jeff Schussler, a cardiologist with Baylor University Medical Center. He says some nine to 11 year old children already are being screened.

Dr. Schussler: If you have a very strong family history, there's always been attention paid to children of parents who have early and aggressive disease. But sometimes the individual is the one where the family history starts. And so how do you know if you or your child has the problem? So screening is just a way of finding out if you as an individual fall into that high risk group.

Sam: Is this another reaction to childhood obesity or children with inactive lifestyles?

Dr. Schussler: I think that's really brought the problem to a focus. We have children who have high blood pressure now because they're obese and we have children who have diabetes in their teens because of obesity. And likewise, they have a certain genetic predisposition that might not have occurred until they're in their twenties or thirties, but now, because of obesity, you may see it younger and younger. So if you can identify those children who are at higher risk earlier on, you might be able to affect them positively in some way.

Sam: How do you treat them once you've identified a high-risk child?

Dr. Schussler: So it depends on where they fall as risk. If you have a child that's extremely high risk, very bad lipid profiles, very bad family history, you could consider starting medication. But if you have a child that's overweight and has a little bit of high cholesterol, the first thing you would probably do is look at their lifestyle and make some changes both with the way that they're exercising or not exercising and what they're eating.

Sam: What is cholesterol and why does it matter?

Dr. Schussler: Cholesterol is part of the body and it's what the body uses to make different things like membranes of cells. You have it everywhere in you body. You have it in your heart, in your brain, you have it in all the muscles. But if you have too much of it, or if you have very small particles of cholesterol, they can actually form plaques in the arteries. This can happen in the brain and cause strokes. It can happen in the heart arteries and cause heart pain or angioma. It can cause heart attacks.

Sam: Now we hear there's good cholesterol and bad cholesterol. What's the difference?

Dr. Schussler: Used to be, years ago, all we had was a total number. Many people remember 200 was the magic number. You want it below 200. Well, we've been able to look at the cholesterol a little more closely and there's different amounts of cholesterol in different bins. There's good cholesterol and that's known as your HDL. There's bad cholesterol and that's your LDL. There's also other fatty particles like triglycerides. And we know that people who tend to have more heart disease tend to have higher levels of the LDLs or higher levels of the bad cholesterol. In those people whose total number is high, but is made up mostly of good cholesterol, we worry about them less than people who have high cholesterol and the numbers are really made up of bad cholesterol.

Sam: So what is a person supposed to do to keep one in check and do away with the other?

Dr. Jeff Schussler is a cardiologist with Baylor Medical Center.

For more information on cholesterol:



Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.