Lipids are fatty substances that cannot dissolve in the blood and therefore circulate through the body in the bloodstream. The body needs lipids in small amounts to carry out numerous cellular processes and different body functions. When lipids levels get too high, however, it can increase your risk of developing heart disease. Elevated levels of lipids in the blood are referred to as hyperlipidemia.
Types of Lipids and Lipoproteins
The body contains four major types of lipids. These lipids include cholesterol, cholesterol esters, phospholipids and triglycerides. Lipoproteins are large molecules that transport lipids through the bloodstream. There are several available lipoproteins as well. The most well-known lipoproteins are low-density lipoproteins and high-density lipoproteins, commonly referred to as LDL and HDL, respectively. The other lipoproteins include chylomicrons, very low-density lipoproteins, or VLDL, and intermediate-density lipoproteins, or IDL.
Types of Hyperlipidemia
Hyperlipidemia can be categorized into different forms based on which lipids are elevated in the blood. When elevation involves several of the lipid categories, it is referred to as hyperlipidemia. When cholesterol is the only lipid that is elevated in the blood, it is referred to as hypercholesterolemia. High triglyceride levels in the blood are called hypertriglyceridemia.
One of the most common causes of elevated lipid levels is excess weight. People who are overweight or obese tend to have higher lipid levels than those at a healthy weight. Diets that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol also lead to the development of hyperlipidemia. Other causes of hyperlipidemia include certain medications, smoking, excessive alcohol use, lack of exercise and chronic diseases, such as hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome and kidney disease. According to Medline Plus, several different genetic disorders may cause abnormal lipid levels in the body as well.
Hyperlipidemia can lead to the development of a condition called atherosclerosis. When blood lipid levels are high, it damages the walls of the arteries. When the arteries are damaged, they are more susceptible to the accumulation of plaque. When plaque builds up on the arteries, it can eventually harden, causing the arteries to lose elasticity and flexibility. The hardened arteries hinder blood flow and may lead to the development of coronary artery disease and increase your chances of heart attack and stroke.
The first step in treating hyperlipidemia is making various diet and lifestyle changes. Avoiding saturated fats and cholesterol is important in lowering blood lipid levels. Increasing daily exercise, decreasing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking are other important steps you can take to lower lipid levels. If diet and lifestyle changes are not enough, medications to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels are available. Severe cases may require surgery to restore normal blood flow.