Hyperlipidemia occurs when someone’s blood contains abnormally high amounts of lipids (fats), which include cholesterol and triglycerides. High lipid levels can cause plaque to build up within the arteries, which can in turn cause the arteries to harden and narrow (atherosclerosis) and lead to a greater risk of heart attack and stroke.
Causes of Hyperlipidemia
Hyperlipidemia is generally caused by lifestyle factors such as:
- Being overweight
- Eating a diet rich in saturated and trans fats, meats and dairy
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- Failing to exercise
In certain cases, hyperlipidemia can be inherited from a parent. In fact, studies suggest that familial hypercholesterolemia (a type of hyperlipidemia) is the most common inherited condition affecting the heart and blood vessels. Certain medications—including some birth control pills, depression medications and diuretics—can also affect cholesterol levels.
Symptoms of Hyperlipidemia
Hyperlipidemia generally doesn’t cause any symptoms. As such, it’s important to regularly monitor your lipid levels, especially if you have a family history of hyperlipidemia or if your lifestyle puts you at risk for developing this condition. However, in some cases—especially where hyperlipidemia is inherited—individuals may develop fatty yellow growths near their eyes or their joints.
If a physician suspects that you might have hyperlipidemia, he or she will generally order a blood test to confirm the diagnosis (commonly referred to as a lipid panel or a lipid profile). You will likely have to fast for eight to 12 hours prior to the test. Your physician will provide you with more specific instructions about how to prepare.
Treatment for Hyperlipidemia
Because hyperlipidemia is typically caused by lifestyle factors, physicians will often recommend that patients make the following changes as needed:
- Reduce intake of saturated and trans fats and cholesterol Increase intake of dietary fiber
- Drink more water
- Regularly exercise (cardiovascular exercise is particularly important)
- Lose excess weight
- Quit smoking
- Reduce consumption of alcohol
In some cases, lifestyle changes aren’t enough to lower lipid levels. When this happens, the specialists at Tampa General Hospital will often prescribe anti-cholesterol medication (statins) to treat hyperlipidemia.