Hyperlipidemia is an elevation of one or more fat proteins in the blood. It is commonly referred to as high cholesterol. One-third of American adults have it, only 1 in 3 have it under control, and having hyperlipidemia doubles the risk of developing heart disease.1
Genetic predisposition, cigarette smoking, obesity, poor diet, and a sedentary lifestyle can all lead to hyperlipidemia. Although hyperlipidemia has no symptoms, it can be detected by a simple blood test.
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You will also see introductions at the end of some sections to any recent developments that have been covered by MNT's news stories. Also look out for links to information about related conditions.
Fast facts on hyperlipidemia
Here are some key points about hyperlipidemia. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Hyperlipidemia is a major risk factor for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the US.
- Hyperlipidemia is also called high cholesterol, hypercholesterolemia, or hypertriglyceridemia.
- LDL is bad.
- HDL is good.
- Women are more likely than men to have high cholesterol.
- The liver produces 75% of our cholesterol.
- Plant-based foods contain no cholesterol.
- There are no symptoms of hyperlipidemia.
- Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can cause high cholesterol.
- Diets high in saturated fats contribute to hyperlipidemia.
- Being overweight can increase cholesterol.
- Regular physical activity can raise the good cholesterol (HDL) and lower the bad (LDL).
- 1 in 500 people worldwide has familial hyperlipidemia.2
What is hyperlipidemia?
Hyperlipidemia is too much cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol is a waxy, fat protein manufactured by the liver and is essential for healthy cell membranes, hormone production, and vitamin storage.
The term hyperlipidemia means high lipid levels. Hyperlipidemia includes several conditions, but it usually means that you have high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels.
Even the brain depends on cholesterol for proper functioning. Cholesterol becomes a problem when too much of the bad kind is produced or ingested through regular eating of unhealthy foods.
Cholesterol is carried through the blood to cells by lipoproteins that are either low density (LDL) or high density (HDL). Think of the lipoprotein as the vehicle and cholesterol as the passenger.
HDL is the good lipoprotein because it carries extra cholesterol back to the liver where it can be eliminated. LDL is bad, as it will build up excess cholesterol in the blood.
Triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood, are different from cholesterol, but because of their strong association with heart disease, triglycerides are measured as well.
Often it is both the LDL and triglycerides that are elevated in hyperlipidemia.
What causes hyperlipidemia?
The causes of hyperlipidemia are either genetic (familial or primary hyperlipidemia) or from a poor diet and other specific factors (secondary hyperlipidemia).
You can encourage a healthy cholesterol level by avoiding fast food, junk food and processed meats.
When the body cannot utilize or remove the excess fat, it accumulates in the blood. Over time, the buildup damages the arteries and internal organs. This process contributes to the development of heart disease.
In familial hyperlipidemia, the high cholesterol has nothing to do with poor habits but is caused by a genetic disorder.3
A mutated gene passed down from either the mother or father causes a missing or malfunctioning LDL receptor. The LDL accumulates to dangerous amounts in the blood.
Certain ethnic groups such as French Canadians, Christian Lebanese, South African Afrikaners, and Ashkenazi Jews are at a higher risk of hereditary hyperlipidemia.4
Other causes of hyperlipidemia may include excessive drinking of alcohol, obesity, side effects of medications such as hormones or steroids, diabetes, kidney disease, underactive thyroid gland, and pregnancy.5
Recent developments on hyperlipidemia causes from MNT news
People who carry a common mutation in a gene called SCARB1 - that regulates cholesterol - may have a higher risk of developing heart disease, say the researchers behind a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE.
A new study published in JAMA claims to have found evidence to support a causal association between high levels of "bad" cholesterol and aortic valve stenosis - a form of aortic valve disease in which the valve is narrowed, restricting blood flow from the heart.
Signs and symptoms of hyperlipidemia
With familial hyperlipidemia, a person could show signs of high cholesterol with yellowish fatty growths (xanthomas) around the eyes or the joints. Otherwise, hyperlipidemia has no signs or symptoms, and unless picked up with the fasting lipid profile, the high cholesterol would remain undetected.
Excessive fat in the blood accumulates over time, forming plaques on the walls of the arteries and blood vessels. This will narrow the openings, producing turbulent blood flow through the vessels, and cause the heart to use more force to get the blood through the constricted areas.
On the next page we look at how hyperlipidemia is diagnosed and the treatment and prevention options for hyperlipidemia.