Lipid is the scientific term for fats in the blood. At proper levels, lipids perform important functions in your body but can cause health problems if they are present in excess. The term hyperlipidemia means high lipid levels.
Hyperlipidemia includes several conditions, but it usually means that you have high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels.
High lipid levels can speed up a process called atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. Your arteries are normally smooth and unobstructed on the inside, but as you age, a sticky substance called plaque forms in the walls of your arteries.
Plaque is made of lipids and other materials circulating in your blood. As more plaque builds up, your arteries can narrow and stiffen. Eventually, enough plaque may build up to reduce blood flow through your arteries.
Atherosclerosis increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other vascular diseases. Fortunately, you may be able to reduce high lipid levels and, therefore, prevent or slow the progression of atherosclerosis. Lifestyle changes like exercising and eating a healthy diet can also lower your lipid levels and are often the first step in treatment.
What are the symptoms? Hyperlipidemia by itself does not cause any symptoms.
What causes hyperlipidemia? Most hyperlipidemia is caused by lifestyle habits or treatable medical conditions. Lifestyle contributors include obesity, not exercising, and smoking. Conditions that cause hyperlipidemia include diabetes, kidney disease, pregnancy, and an underactive thyroid gland.
You can also inherit hyperlipidemia. The cause may be genetic if you have a normal body weight and other members of your family have hyperlipidemia.
You have a greater chance of developing hyperlipidemia if you are a man older than age 45 or a woman older than age 55. If a close relative had early heart disease (father or brother affected before age 55, mother or sister affected before age 65), you also have an increased risk.