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Hyperlipidemia is an umbrella medical condition characterized by abnormally high fat levels, or lipids, in the blood. Lipids are fatty acids in the body that include cholesterol and triglycerides. 

Hyperlipidemia is the primary risk factor for atherosclerosis, a disease of the arteries that causes plaques of fatty acids to build up and is the leading cause of cardiovascular disease, or heart disease. Hyperlipidemia can lead to blockages in blood vessels, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and even death if left untreated.

High cholesterol is the most common type of hyperlipidemia, affecting nearly 90 million U.S. adults, or 12% of U.S. adults (CDC).  After high cholesterol, hypertriglyceridemia and mixed hyperlipidemia are the most prevalent types of hyperlipidemia. 

Hypertriglyceridemia describes high triglyceride levels in the blood, and mixed hyperlipidemia refers to a state of elevated triglycerides and elevated cholesterol.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a lipid (with a waxy, fatty consistency) that is naturally present in the cells. The body needs a small amount of cholesterol in order to build cell membranes, create hormones, regulate metabolism, and produce vitamin D.


There are two main types of proteins (lipoproteins) responsible for carrying cholesterol to the cells. One lipoprotein we consider “good” cholesterol, and the other lipoprotein is considered “bad” cholesterol. LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein) is “bad” cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein) is “good” cholesterol.  

LDL cholesterol is damaging to the body, because it causes a buildup of cholesterol in the arteries. HDL, on the other hand, transports the excess cholesterol back to the liver to be excreted through bile (digestive fluid). HDL essentially cancels LDL out by mitigating harmful cholesterol buildup.

When LDL is too high and HDL isn’t able to manage the excess cholesterol, this leads to a dangerous buildup of bad cholesterol in the blood – which is what we call hyperlipidemia.


Triglycerides are another type of blood fat, made up of saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and glycerol (a form of glucose). Triglycerides serve as the body’s main source of energy, and are derived from our diet and from the liver (Heart UK). 

While cholesterol serves to build cell membranes and produce certain hormones, triglycerides provide the body with energy and help store unused calories for later. 

When triglyceride levels in the blood are too high, this can cause the arteries to harden, and lead to liver and pancreas problems, and ultimately, heart disease. 

It can be challenging to tell which signs and symptoms are directly caused by high triglyceride levels, as this condition generally shows up alongside other health conditions, such as hypothyroidism, type 2 diabetes, or prediabetes. (What are the 3 most common symptoms of undiagnosed diabetes?)

What are healthy cholesterol levels?

The ideal cholesterol range varies slightly based on a person’s age and sex. Cholesterol is measured in mg/dL: milligrams (mg) per decilitre (dL). 

Age Group/SexType of CholesterolHealthy Range
People age 19 or youngerTotal CholesterolUnder 170 mg/dL
LDL (Bad Cholesterol)Under 100 mg/dL
HDL (Good Cholesterol)Above 45 mg/dL
Men 20 years & olderTotal CholesterolBetween 125 and 200 mg/dL
LDL (Bad Cholesterol)Under 100 mg/dL
HDL (Good Cholesterol)Above 40 mg/dL
Women 20 years & olderTotal CholesterolBetween 125 and 200 mg/dL
LDL (Bad Cholesterol)Under 100 mg/dL
HDL (Good Cholesterol)Above 50 mg/dL

For triglycerides, numbers below 150 mg/dL are considered healthy. Levels higher than 200 mg/dL are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. 

Hyperlipidemia Causes and Risk Factors

Any of the following factors may cause hyperlipidemia or increase the risk of hyperlipidemia:

  • Eating a diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol (primary cause)
  • Genetics
  • Taking certain medications, hormonal or steroidal 
  • Pre-existing conditions (diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney disease)
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Signs and Symptoms of Hyperlipidemia

Typically, a person with hyperlipidemia won’t experience any specific symptoms, other than symptoms associated with risk factors and/or causes. For example, the signs and symptoms that come with obesity and an imbalanced diet (shortness of breath, various skin conditions, and excess body fat) may be present in a person with hyperlipidemia.

As hyperlipidemia progresses, it may lead to any of these symptoms:

  • Chest pain (angina)
  • High blood pressure
  • Cramps in the calves
  • Pain in the feet
  • Confusion or trouble speaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatty deposits of cholesterol around the eyes

How Hyperlipidemia is Diagnosed

Hyperlipidemia is diagnosed through a blood test. If a patient is suspected to have a form of hyperlipidemia, one of our experienced endocrinologists in Orlando may order a lipid panel, or lipid profile. 

A lipid panel blood test measures the amount of lipids in the blood, which determines cholesterol levels, including low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Typically, the patient will be asked to fast for at least 10 hours before taking a lipid panel test. Fasting means not eating or drinking (anything besides water) for that period of time. For patients who have another medical condition that would make it dangerous to fast, there are alternative options that your doctor will discuss with you.

Your doctor may also take a physical exam, and assess your health history and family history to determine your risk or diagnose your condition.

Hyperlipidemia Treatment & Prevention

Preventing Hyperlipidemia

At UCF Health, we believe prevention is the best type of treatment. We focus our treatment plans on healthy lifestyle changes, because developing healthy habits and living a balanced lifestyle is the most sustainable solution with the best outcome.

We work with our patients to develop a treatment plan that helps them manage stress in beneficial ways, exercise regularly, eat a heart healthy diet, and maintain a healthy weight. By minimizing risk factors and causes, and knowing how to prevent heart disease, we can hopefully avoid the need for medications.

We advise that every person over the age of 20 takes regular cholesterol tests every 5 years to monitor cholesterol levels and assess for early signs.

Treating Hyperlipidemia

If hyperlipidemia is past the point of prevention, medication is necessary. Statins are most commonly prescribed to help lower cholesterol, lower triglycerides, and reduce the risk of heart attack and heart disease. Your primary care physician will develop a plan to help you reduce risk factors.

Statins are lipid-lowering oral drugs that work by blocking a substance needed for your liver to produce cholesterol. This causes your liver to instead remove cholesterol from the blood, and use it to produce bile. 

According to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, low-to-moderate-dose statins are best for adults ages 40 to 75 who have one or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease and/or blood vessel disease, and who have at least a 1 in 10 chance of a cardiovascular disease event occurring in the next 10 years.

If you have hyperlipidemia or are at risk of hyperlipidemia, your experienced UCF Health physician will explore all of your treatment options with you, and discuss the pros and cons of each one, to help you make the best decisions for your health.

Once you visit one of our healthcare providers, our new patient portal allows you to view lab results, send secure messages to your doctor, view statements and receipts, and manage prescriptions. 

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