Hyperlipidemia is a medical term for abnormally high levels of fats (lipids) in the blood. The two major types of lipids found in the blood are triglycerides and cholesterol.

Triglycerides are made when your body stores the extra calories it doesn’t need for energy. They also come directly from your diet in foods such as red meat and whole-fat dairy. A diet high in refined sugar, fructose, and alcohol raises triglycerides.

Cholesterol is produced naturally in your liver because every cell in your body uses it. Similar to triglycerides, cholesterol is also found in fatty foods like eggs, red meat, and cheese.

Hyperlipidemia is more commonly known as high cholesterol. Although high cholesterol can be inherited, it’s more often the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices.

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Understanding Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that travels through your bloodstream on proteins called lipoproteins. When you have too much cholesterol in your blood, it can build up on the walls of your blood vessels and form plaque. Over time, plaque deposits grow larger and begin to clog up your arteries, which can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Getting a Diagnosis

Hyperlipidemia has no symptoms, so the only way to detect it is to have your doctor perform a blood test called a lipid panel or a lipid profile. This test determines your cholesterol levels. Your doctor will take a sample of your blood and send it to a lab for testing, then get back to you with a full report.  

Your report will show your levels of:

  • total cholesterol
  • low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol
  • high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
  • Triglycerides

Your doctor may ask you to fast for 8 to 12 hours before getting your blood drawn. That means you’ll need to avoid eating or drinking anything other than water during that time. However, recent studies suggest that fasting isn’t always necessary, so follow your doctor’s instructions in regard to your particular health concerns.Generally, a total cholesterol level above 200 milligrams per deciliter is considered high. However, safe levels of cholesterol can vary from person to person depending on health history and current health concerns, and are best determined by your doctor. Your doctor will use your lipid panel to make a hyperlipidemia diagnosis.

Are you at risk for hyperlipidemia?

There are two types of cholesterol, LDL and HDL. You’ve probably heard them called “bad” and “good” cholesterol, respectively. LDL (“bad”) cholesterol builds up in your artery walls, making them hard and narrow. HDL (“good”) cholesterol cleans up excess “bad” cholesterol and moves it away from the arteries, back to your liver. Hyperlipidemia is caused by having too much LDL cholesterol in your blood and not enough HDL cholesterol to clear it up.Unhealthy lifestyle choices can raise “bad” cholesterol levels and lower “good” cholesterol levels. If you’re overweight, eating lots of fatty foods, smoking, or not getting enough exercise, then you’re at risk.

Lifestyle choices that put you at risk for high cholesterol Include

  • eating foods with saturated and trans fats
  • eating animal protein, like meat and dairy
  • not getting enough exercise
  • not eating enough healthy fats
  • obesity
  • large waist circumference
  • smoking
  • drinking alcohol excessively

Abnormal cholesterol levels are also found in some people with certain health conditions,

  • kidney disease
  • diabetes
  • polycystic ovary syndrome
  • pregnancy
  • underactive thyroid
  • inherited conditions

As well, your cholesterol levels may be affected by certain medications

  • birth control pills
  • diuretics
  • some depression medications