It may be a mouthful to pronounce, but dyslipidemia affects around 94 million Americans, including 7% of children and adolescents. Dyslipidemia is a medical condition that describes an abnormally high level of lipids in the blood.

In layman's terms, it might simply be referred to as "high cholesterol," although it's actually a bit more complicated than that. The condition is also quite serious, with the potential to cause stroke, heart attack, and other issues.

What does "too many lipids" mean?

Dyslipidemia or hyperlipidemia is a condition of having abnormal levels of lipids in the blood, namely cholesterol and triglycerides. Cholesterol is a fatty substance produced by the liver and found in certain foods. Triglycerides, on the other hand, are a type of fat that is stored in the body for energy. The body produces both of these substances naturally, but lifestyle and dietary factors can often cause an excess in the blood.

When cholesterol and triglyceride levels get too high, it can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries. If blood can't pass through the arteries freely, there's an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

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What Causes Dyslipidemia?

Dyslipidemia can be caused by a variety of factors, the most common being genetics, diet, and lifestyle choices. Some people are genetically predisposed to dyslipidemia. Others, meanwhile, might develop the condition as a result of an unhealthy diet or sedentary lifestyle.

Certain medical conditions can also contribute to dyslipidemia. People with diabetes, hypothyroidism, or hypertension are at a higher risk. Finally, certain medications can also contribute to dyslipidemia, such as beta-blockers, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, or diuretics.

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Good Cholesterol vs. Bad Cholesterol

Blood contains more than one type of lipid. You've probably heard about "good cholesterol" and "bad cholesterol" before. But what does that even mean?

A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, often referred to as "bad" cholesterol, is a major contributor to dyslipidemia. LDL cholesterol can build up in the walls of arteries, which ends up narrowing or blocking the blood flow.

In addition to LDL cholesterol, dyslipidemia can also be characterized by low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, also known as "good" cholesterol. HDL cholesterol helps to remove excess cholesterol from the blood and transport it to the liver, where it can be broken down and eliminated from the body. Low levels of HDL cholesterol can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

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Signs and Symptoms of Dyslipidemia

Unfortunately, dyslipidemia doesn't come with any obvious signs or symptoms. Most patients won't realize they have it until they undergo a cholesterol test, either for a routine physical or stemming from a different medical issue.

However, there are a few things to watch out for. People who experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or chronic fatigue may have dyslipidemia. These symptoms are common for a number of cardiovascular issues, though. Some people make the mistake of shrugging off these symptoms as merely being a bit "out of shape." However, medical issues related to your cardiovascular system can be extremely serious and should always be evaluated by a doctor.

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How To Diagnose Dyslipidemia

Dyslipidemia can be diagnosed through a lipid profile blood test that measures the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. The doctor will usually require the patient to fast for a few hours beforehand to ensure accurate results.

The cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood. Anything below 200 mg/dL is considered normal, 200-239 mg/DL is considered at-risk, and 240 mg/DL and above is considered high cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone 20 or older have their cholesterol tested every four to six years, or as often as a doctor recommends.

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How to Prevent Dyslipidemia

Making healthy lifestyle decisions is the best way to prevent dyslipidemia. Eating a nutritious diet, exercising frequently, maintaining a healthy weight, and abstaining from smoking and excessive alcohol use will all help prevent high cholesterol.

Since this condition can also be genetic, anyone with a family history of cardiovascular disease or other risk factors for dyslipidemia should proactively undergo more frequent routine testing for their cholesterol levels.

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How To Treat Dyslipidemia

There are medications that will help with dyslipidemia. The most common are statins, one of the most-prescribed drugs in the world. They lower the level of LDL in the body, reducing the chances of a stroke or heart attack. There are several types of statins, and a doctor can recommend the best one based on your symptoms and other factors.

Even if medication is prescribed, lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise adjustments, are part of the treatment for dyslipidemia. Triglyceride and cholesterol levels can be reduced with a balanced diet, which has many factors such as reducing saturated and trans fats. Increasing fruits and vegetables, and adding lean protein from sources like fish and chicken, is also important.

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Smoking and Dyslipidemia

Smoking is one of the worst things a person can do to their own body. The negative impacts of smoking or vaping have been well-known for years now. Smoking will directly lead to lower levels of HDL cholesterol (the "good" kind). Smoking also attacks the lungs and does all sorts of damage to your cardiovascular system.

When it comes to high cholesterol, not smoking is one of the biggest keys. No amount of medication or exercise is going to counteract the ill effects that regular smoking will have on a body, but the good news is, health improvements begin as little as eight hours after a person stops smoking!

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Take Control of Your Health

Dyslipidemia is a common medical condition that can have serious health consequences if left untreated. By making healthy lifestyle choices and seeking regular medical care, people can manage dyslipidemia relatively easily. Keeping track of high cholesterol will help reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

If you are concerned about your lipid levels or have a family history of cardiovascular disease, talk to your healthcare provider about screening. You don't have to wait until something goes wrong to get a routine blood test.

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The Four Main Types of Dyslipidemia

Dyslipidemia has four different types, each with slightly different characteristics.

  1. Hypercholesterolemia: This is when the blood contains excessive amounts of LDL cholesterol, the type often referred to as "bad cholesterol" due to its ability to cause the accumulation of plaque in the arteries.
  2. Hypertriglyceridemia: This is a condition where there are elevated levels of triglycerides in the bloodstream. Triglycerides are a type of fat that is utilized for energy in the body, but high amounts can also contribute to the formation of plaque in the arteries.
  3. Low HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol: On the other hand, low levels of HDL cholesterol ( the "good cholesterol") can increase the risk of heart disease, as HDL cholesterol is responsible for eliminating LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.
  4. Combined hyperlipidemia: Lastly, combined hyperlipidemia is the presence of two or more types of dyslipidemia, such as high levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, combined with low levels of HDL cholesterol.

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