Hyperlipidemia – Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment
Hyperlipidemia, or abnormal high levels of cholesterol in the blood, is a common problem, which can be either inherited or resulting from unhealthy lifestyle. The condition has no symptoms and most people don’t feel it at first, but sooner or later they will notice its effects.
Cholesterol can build up inside the arteries, making blood vessels narrower. This makes it more difficult for the blood to travel trough and the blood pressure can go up, resulting in cardiovascular diseases.
The cholesterol buildup can also cause a blood clot to form. If a clot breaks off and travels to the heart, it can be a cause of heart attack. If a clot travels to the brain, it can be a cause of stroke.
While hyperlipidemia itself doesn’t produce symptoms, if it turns into atherosclerosis or other serious and even critical conditions, the symptoms may include:
- Chest tightness, pressure or pain
- Blockage of blood vessels in the heart or brain
- Myocardial infarction
- Cerebrovascular accident.
As it has already been mentioned, hyperlipidemia can be caused by genetics and lifestyle. Preventable causes are:
- Consuming a diet high in total fats, saturated fats and trans fats, such as cheese, pastries, egg yolks, dairy, red meat, fried and processed foods
- Not consuming enough healthy fats, such as fish, avocados, nuts, seeds and seed oils
- Being physically inactive
- Being overweight or obese
- Drinking alcohol excessively
- Using steroids.
- The risk factors that contribute to the disease are:
- Age – the risk usually increases with age
- Concomitant conditions and systemic disorders – diabetes, kidney disorders and thyroid problems can promote hyperlipidemia 1
- Genes – hereditary factors remain the most common cause of high cholesterol.
The only way to detect hyperlipidemia and estimate cardiovascular risk is to get a biochemical blood test2, which should display the levels of:
LDL cholesterol – low density lipoprotein or bad cholesterol, that causes plaque buildup in the arteries. The lower the LDL levels, the better.
HDL cholesterol – high density lipoprotein or good cholesterol, that carries cholesterol from other parts of the body back to the liver, from where it is removed from the body. The higher the HDL levels, the better.
Triglycerides – the fat the body releases for energy between meals. When you consume more calories than you burn, the body fails to release triglycerides and its levels become high.
Total cholesterol - a measure of all three cholesterol components. Its values cannot be interpreted in their absence.
The fat level should not normally exceed 200 mg/dL for total cholesterol. In people who suffer from atherosclerosis or diabetes, the LDL cholesterol level should be less than 100 mg/dL.
Recommendations for the age of the first screening can vary depending on the family history, lifestyle and concomitant conditions. Retesting is usually performed every several years. If the results aren’t within desirable ranges, more frequent measurements may be recommended.
The main treatment for hyperlipidemia are lifestyle changes, such as aerobic exercises, maintaining a normal weight, quitting smoking and eating a diet low in saturated fats. If this doesn’t help to bring cholesterol levels to normal range, medications may be prescribed. Usually they include:
- Statins – prevent liver form making too much cholesterol
- Resins – prevent cholesterol from being absorbed into the blood
- Fibrates – cut down triglycerides and level up HDL, but do not bring down LDL
- Protein blockers – reduce the amount of cholesterol consumed with food absorbed in the intestines.
Hyperlipidemia is preventable and treatable. The prognosis depends on your commitment to adhering to healthy lifestyle. Although, if you have been prescribed medications for this condition, it is most likely that you will have to take them lifelong.
Stone NJ. “Secondary causes of hyperlipidemia”. The Medical clinics of North America. 78(1):117-41. January, 1994. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8283927
Langlois MR, Nordestgaard BG. “Which Lipids Should Be Analyzed for Diagnostic Workup and Follow-up of Patients with Hyperlipidemias?” Current cardiology reports. 20(10):88. August 17, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11886-018-1036-1