Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Screening and treatment of hyperlipidemia in children

The September 1 issue of American Family Physician inaugurates a new editorial feature that presents two opposing views on a controversial clinical topic and asks readers to post comments online. In this issue, Dr. Robert Gauer argues that because atherosclerosis begins in childhood, using cholesterol-lowering drugs in children with hyperlipidemia is essential to prevent coronary events and cardiovascular mortality in later life. On the other hand, Dr. Michael LeFevre contends that since only 40 to 55 percent of children with elevated cholesterol levels will have persistent hyperlipidemia as adults, and the potential benefits and harms of decades of drug therapy are unknown, physicians should demand a high "evidence bar" for instituting screening and treatment.

Since hyperlipidemia causes no symptoms, these views reflect in large part the dueling guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) on lipid screening in children. While the AAP recommends that screening for hyperlipidemia begin at age 2 in children with a family history of hyperlipidemia, premature cardiovascular disease, or other risk factors, the USPSTF found insufficient evidence to recommend for or against screening in any group of children.

This leaves family physicians and other clinicians who care for children with an important clinical dilemma. Should they act now based on disease-oriented evidence and extrapolation from studies of primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in adults, or should they instead wait for patient-oriented evidence from long-term followup studies of children with elevated lipid levels? Which approach do you take in your practice, and why? You are welcome to post comments here or on AFP's Facebook page; AAFP members can also post comments on the AFP web page. We look forward to the discussion!

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