What is hyperlipidemia?

Hyperlipidemia occurs when there are too many lipids—or fats— in the blood. For most people, hyperlipidemia means high cholesterol and/or high triglycerides. The body needs cholesterol to function, but when too much cholesterol builds up in the body as a result of either genetics or unhealthy lifestyle choices, it can form deposits in the arteries. These deposits, called plaque, can make the arteries narrow, and restrict or block the flow of blood.

There are different kinds of cholesterol. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol helps to flush cholesterol from the body, lowering heart disease and stroke risk in the process.

Why should I pay attention to hyperlipidemia?

Hyperlipidemia can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Severely restricted or blocked blood flow to the heart can cause a heart attack. Similarly, restricted or blocked blood flow to the brain can cause a stroke. Restricted or blocked blood flow to the legs can cause peripheral arterial disease, which can create pain or even gangrene in the lower extremities.

What increases my risk?

Diet and exercise are closely linked to hyperlipidemia. If you eat a diet that is high in added sugars or saturated and trans fats, you’re at a greater risk of developing high cholesterol levels. Heredity also plays a role, and medical conditions including diabetes, kidney disease, and polycystic ovary syndrome, as well as some medications, can contribute to high cholesterol levels.

What can I do to decrease my risk?

If you are diagnosed with hyperlipidemia, your overall risk status will guide your treatment plan. Regardless of whether or not you are prescribed medications to manage your lipids, several lifestyle factors will be key to managing your overall health – the same risk factors that are essential to preventing hyperlipidemia. They include maintaining a healthy weight, following a Mediterranean-style diet, which is high in whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fats, being active regularly, and quitting smoking.