Hyperlipoproteinemia refers to excessive lipoproteins in the blood. Lipoproteins are parcels of protein and fat that transport blood fats, such as cholesterol and triglycerides.
Humans require some proteins and fats in the bloodstream to function. However, too much cholesterol on the artery walls can increase the risk of problems, such as heart disease and stroke. Hyperlipoproteinemia is a common disorder, possibly affecting over half of the United States’s adult population.
This article breaks down the different types of hyperlipoproteinemia, what causes them, and how to manage them.
Hyperlipoproteinemia means that an individual has high levels of lipoproteins and blood fats called lipids. These include:
- Cholesterol: This is a waxy, fatty substance in the blood that’s important for health in
small amounts. However, too much can cause health problems.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): This type of lipoprotein transports cholesterol to cells in the walls of the arteries.
- Triglycerides: The body uses this type of blood fat for energy. Triglycerides are the
most common type of fatin the body.
- Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL): This is a lipoprotein that
mainly carries triglycerides.
High levels of blood fats, such as triglycerides and cholesterol, can contribute to
As high lipoprotein levels have such close links to high cholesterol and triglycerides, the term “hyperlipoproteinemia” is often interchangeable with “hyperlipidemia.” Having high levels of lipids in the blood is a common disorder, possibly affecting
Hyperlipidemia can develop due to a primary or secondary cause.
Primary causes are genetic, which means a parent typically passes them to a child through their genes. There are several genetic disorders that can affect how the body
This refers to the increase of blood lipids and lipoproteins by another health condition. Secondary hyperlipoproteinemia might occur due to the following conditions or causes:
- a diet containing too many foods with high saturated fats
- medications — including a heart medication called
amiodaroneand glucocorticoids, a group of anti-inflammatory medications
- hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland
- untreated diabetes
Factors, such as obesity, can act as secondary factors that trigger lipid buildup in those who have underlying primary hyperlipoproteinemia.
Five different types of genetic or inherited hyperlipoproteinemia can affect levels of different blood fats in different ways, according to the Fredrickson classifications that first defined them. These include:
- Type I: Children can inherit this from their parents, and it usually presents when
people are young. Type I disrupts how the body breaks down fats, leading to a severe buildup of triglycerides.
- Type IIa: Also known as familial hypercholesterolemia, this type occurs due to a gene alteration and causes high levels of LDL cholesterol.
- Type IIb: A variation in a specific gene causes both high cholesterol and high triglycerides.
- Type III: An increase in intermediate-density lipoproteins (IDL) sets type III apart. This type is genetic and affects how the body breaks down lipids, causing them to build up.
- Type IV: This type usually leads to
increased VLDL and triglyceridesbut normal cholesterol.
- Type V: This type is severe and refers to
an increase in the triglyceridescontained in VLDL. It often has links to diabetes and does not occur due to reduced lipoprotein metabolism like type I.
Many people with hyperlipoproteinemia do not develop any symptoms and initially find out about high lipids when doctors are investigating a heart problem. However, different types may cause different symptoms. This allows doctors to identify a type and form a treatment plan.
For example, type III hyperlipoproteinemia can cause:
- yellow, crusty, fatty deposits on the skin called
xanthomas, particularly on the palms of the hands
- enlargement of the spleen or liver
- inflammation of the pancreas, or pancreatitis
- cramping in the legs
Family histories of related conditions can also help doctors identify a type. For example, types III, IV, and V have links to diabetes.
Diagnosing hyperlipidemia involves testing the blood for its total cholesterol, triglycerides, and lipoprotein content. The test that measures this is a fasting lipid profile. For between 9 and 12 hours before the test, the individual will only be able to drink water.
Doctors may carry out other tests to rule out causes of secondary hyperlipidemia including:
- a test for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) to rule out hypothyroidism
- a test for blood sugar control over time, an A1C test, to check for diabetes
- tests to check for protein in the urine, which also has links to cardiovascular disease (CVD) according to a
- liver function, as some hyperlipidemia medications list liver problems as a side effect
Doctors treat hyperlipoproteinemia effects, such as high cholesterol and high triglycerides, when they assess that there is a high risk of CVD. Treatments might include lipid-lowering medications called statins, such as:
These have reduced CVD risk by
According to the
- eating a healthy, low saturated fat diet
- engaging in regular physical activity
- avoiding or quitting tobacco use
- maintaining a moderate body mass index (BMI)
Hyperlipoproteinemia increases blood lipids and a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke. It can occur due to other health problems or genetics. There are several different types that vary depending on which lipoprotein or lipid they raise.
Doctors can diagnose the type and rule out other conditions using blood and urine tests. This informs treatment, which usually involves taking statins and making healthy lifestyle changes.