Your Guide to Dyslipidemia

Medically Reviewed By Stacy Sampson, D.O.
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Dyslipidemia occurs when levels of lipid, also called fat, in the blood are too high or too low. It can cause problems with blood circulation and increase risks of cardiovascular disease. Common causes of dyslipidemia include alcohol use, tobacco use, diabetes, and a high body mass index (BMI).

This article explains more about the causes of dyslipidemia and related symptoms. It also talks about the diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

What is dyslipidemia?

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Dyslipidemia refers to an imbalance of lipids in the blood. It can cause plaques to form in the blood vessels, narrowing them and increasing the risk of coronary artery diseases.

The body naturally produces lipids to help transport fat-soluble nutrients, regulate hormones, and transmit nerve impulses. 

You also get some lipids from certain foods you eat, such as butter and red meat.

Overall, the different types of lipids in the body include:

  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL): Also known as “bad” cholesterol, this lipid can accumulate in the blood vessels and interrupt blood circulation. High levels of LDL can cause dyslipidemia.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL): Also known as “good” cholesterol, this lipid helps remove LDL from the blood and promotes circulation. Low levels of HDL may be a sign of dyslipidemia.
  • Triglycerides: This type develops when extra calories from fat do not burn but remain in fat cells. Dyslipidemia can develop when there are high levels of triglycerides in the blood.

Find out more about cholesterol levels here.

Dyslipidemia vs. hyperlipidemia

Some people use dyslipidemia and hyperlipidemia interchangeably. However, the two conditions are not exactly the same. 

Hyperlipidemia refers to high levels of LDL or triglycerides in the body. On the other hand, dyslipidemia can refer to lipid levels that are either higher or lower than the normal measure.

What are the types of dyslipidemia?

There are two types of dyslipidemia: primary dyslipidemia and secondary dyslipidemia.

Primary dyslipidemia results from genetic factors that interfere with blood lipid levels. A person with the condition can pass it on to their child.

Secondary dyslipidemia is an acquired condition. It primarily arises from lifestyle choices, such as alcohol use. You cannot directly pass this type on to your child.

What are the symptoms of dyslipidemia?

Dyslipidemia can be asymptomatic. As a result, a person can have it without knowing it.

In severe cases, however, dyslipidemia can progress into cardiovascular disease.

This can show such symptoms as:

Seek immediate medical help if you have symptoms of cardiovascular disease, such as persistent or severe chest pain.

Visit our heart health hub for more information about cardiovascular conditions.

How do I treat dyslipidemia?

Dyslipidemia may go away with dietary and lifestyle changes. These include:

  • eating less saturated fats and trans fats, including red meats and full fat dairy milk
  • exercising regularly
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • taking omega-3 oil
  • eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains 
  • avoiding alcohol and tobacco 

Contact your doctor for advice before making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

Medical treatment

If dietary and lifestyle changes do not help reduce or resolve dyslipidemia, you may require medical treatment.

Your doctor will work to identify the underlying cause and treat it.

They may also prescribe statin therapy, a medication that lowers LDL and triglyceride levels in the blood.

If necessary, your doctor may administer additional medications, such as:

  • ezetimibe
  • niacin
  • fibrates
  • bile acid sequestrants
  • evolocumab and alirocumab
  • lomitapide and mipomersen

How do doctors diagnose dyslipidemia?

Doctors usually diagnose dyslipidemia during a routine fasting blood test. 

A blood test can determine if your blood lipid levels are balanced or not. 

Getting annual blood tests can help ensure early diagnosis. Contact your doctor to arrange this.

What causes dyslipidemia?

Causes of dyslipidemia are categorizable into primary and secondary causes.

Primary causes

Primary causes of dyslipidemia include genetic factors that change the behavior of blood lipids. 

They include:

  • Familial combined hyperlipidemia: This is an inherited condition that increases the levels of LDL and triglycerides in the body. It commonly occurs in teenagers and young adults.
  • Familial hyperapobetalipoproteinemia: This is a genetic mutation that increases the LDL apolipoprotein B level in the blood. However, individuals with this condition have a normal LDL level.
  • Familial hypertriglyceridemia: This causes high levels of triglycerides in the blood.
  • Homozygous familial or polygenic hypercholesterolemia: This causes a mutation of the LDL receptor.

Learn more about familial lipid conditions here.

Secondary causes

Secondary causes that may lead to dyslipidemia include lifestyle factors and health conditions, such as: 

What are the risk factors for dyslipidemia?

A variety of factors can predispose a person to dyslipidemia. They include:

  • not getting enough regular physical exercise
  • drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • using tobacco
  • being an older adult, as the likelihood of dyslipidemia increases with age
  • having a family history of dyslipidemia

Can I prevent dyslipidemia?

Leading a healthy lifestyle can keep your lipid levels balanced and reduce your risk of secondary dyslipidemia. 

This can include:

  • eating a healthy diet
  • maintaining a moderate weight 
  • exercising regularly
  • avoiding smoking
  • staying active

If you have a family history of high cholesterol and have concerns about dyslipidemia, discuss this with your doctor. Early detection will allow you to begin treatment sooner.

Could there be any complications of dyslipidemia?

Left untreated, dyslipidemia may clog the arteries and stall blood circulation. This, in turn, can deprive the brain and heart of oxygen and cause a stroke or heart attack.

Contact your doctor to discuss any concerns you have about dyslipidemia. The earlier the diagnosis, the sooner you can begin treatment, and this will help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Summary

Dyslipidemia occurs when lipid levels in the blood are too high or too low. It can disrupt blood circulation and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Primary dyslipidemia is an inherited condition. Secondary dyslipidemia can occur as a result of alcohol consumption, tobacco use, diabetes, and a high BMI.

Contact your doctor if you have any concerns about dyslipidemia. Early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

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Medical Reviewer: Stacy Sampson, D.O.
Last Review Date: 2022 May 30
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