Last Updated December 20th, 2021
It literally means abnormally high lipids in the bloodstream. Chemically speaking, lipids are long hydrocarbon chain molecules, which are responsible for several functions in living organisms.These include storing of energy, providing insulation, the formation of cell membranes etc. Fatty acids are a type of lipid, which are insoluble in water.These can be further divided into triglycerides and cholesterol.
While both these substances are studied under the category of lipids, hyperlipidemia refers to the increased amount of cholesterol in the blood.
Cholesterol is a waxy fatty substance produced by the liver. There are two types of cholesterol – HDL (High-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein).
The function of HDL is to carry the extra cholesterol from the body to the liver, where it can be further eliminated.
LDL serves the purpose of building up the cholesterol levels in the blood.
Hence, HDL is generally known as “good” cholesterol and LDL as the “bad” category of lipids.Cholesterol serves some important functions in the body. It is vital for the normal functioning of brain and formation of cell membranes. Certain hormone production is hampered in the absence of proper cholesterol in the body. Additionally, they are also responsible for storing and processing of vitamins in our body. Yet, an increased level of LDL may lead to excessive deposition of cholesterol in the blood. This cholesterol can clog the arteries and restrict normal blood flow leading to cardiac issues and even stroke. Hence, people suffering from hyperlipidemia are more prone to heart-related diseases.
What causes our cholesterol levels to shoot up?
Primary hyperlipidemia occurs when genetic factors are involved in increasing one’s cholesterol levels. It is also known as familial hyperlipidemia. In this condition, the receptor for LDL cholesterol is either missing or malfunctioning. As a result, the level of LDL builds up in the blood, and is not used by the body.
Secondary hyperlipidemia is a result of unhealthy dietary habits, which are high in LDL, and poor lifestyle choices such as:
- Excessively sedentary lifestyle with little or no physical exercises.
- Obesity, caused by high cholesterol diet and/or hormonal disorders such as hypothyroidism or diabetes.
- Alcohol consumption.
- Hormonal or steroidal medications.
- Kidney-related disorders.
- In some cases, pregnancy may lead to a temporary increase in the cholesterol levels.
Men are at more risk than women in developing this condition. The likelihood of having high cholesterol levels increase with age.
What are the symptoms associated with hyperlipidemia?
The danger associated with hyperlipidemia is that this condition doesn’t manifest visible symptoms in an individual. Primary hyperlipidemia patients generally develop yellow-colored fatty deposits around their eyes, which are considered as the first signs of high LDL.
Amongst individuals who suffer from secondary hyperlipidemia, the high cholesterol levels are usually detected only after a blood test, which could either be routine or could follow some cardiac complications. Usually, increase in weight of an individual is strongly linked to high LDL levels, though many people who lie in the normal weight range can also develop high cholesterol levels.
Since build-up of cholesterol in the blood restricts blood flow, the individual might develop abnormal blood pressure, usually high blood pressure. If left unchecked, blood clotting could result. This blood clot can travel to the heart and cause cardiac arrest. It might also find its way to the brain and lead to a stroke.
How is hyperlipidemia detected?
A complete lipid profile test is used to diagnose hyperlipidemia.
This is done in fasting conditions (at least 8 hours the individual should not eat anything, before the blood test).
There are no discernible symptoms of this condition.
Hence, it is advised to have complete lipid profile test done every 5 years and more so in the case if there is a family history of high cholesterol.
Normal lipid profile looks like:
- Total cholesterol < 200 mg/dL
- LDL <100 mg/dL
- HDL >40 mg/dL (men), 50 mg/dL (women), the higher the better.
- Triglycerides <140 mg/dL
What are the treatment options for hyperlipidemia?
In order to control the cholesterol levels in the blood, both medications and drastic changes in lifestyle are required. There are basically 4 different kinds of medicines helpful in controlling cholesterol levels. These are prescribed according to the cholesterol levels of the individual and also the possible side-effects. Most effective drugs used in treating hyperlipidemia are statins, cholestyramine, fibric –acid resins, and niacin.
Lifestyle changes: In addition to the prescribed medications, the following habits should be adopted to prevent exacerbation of the condition:
- Weight loss and exercises help in using up the cholesterol levels from the blood.
- Smoking is closely related to an increase in LDL levels and the likelihood of cardiac issues. Hence, one should quit smoking to control LDL levels.
- Alcohol is the primary factor in damaging the functioning of the liver, which is responsible for maintaining healthy cholesterol balance. Too much of alcohol intake will lead to abnormal LDL- HDL level in the blood.
- Instead of completely eliminating fats, one should try to remove only the harmful fats from the diet. Trans fats, saturated fat, and food rich in LDL should be removed. These are found more in junk food and deep-fried items.
- One should consume more of healthy fats which are present in nuts, fishes, lentils, and legumes. One should consume only mono-saturated oil such as olive oil. Fiber-rich food items such as fruits (apples, pears, bananas etc) help in keeping LDL low.
What can you do to keep hyperlipidemia away?
High cholesterol is very much preventable unless you have familial hyperlipidemia. The following factors can help you keep your LDL cholesterol in control throughout your life:
- Consuming a heart-healthy diet.
- Reduced intake of junk and fried food.
- Doing at least 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week.
- Avoid smoking.
- Limit alcohol intake.
- Keep getting routine cholesterol checks every 4-5 years. Accordingly, adjust your lifestyle and dietary habits.
Dos and Don'ts
- Oats and barley can increase your HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) by 11%. You should consume these in place of rice.
- Blueberries and strawberries have high anti-oxidant properties and can decrease LDL cholesterol.
- Other cholesterol-friendly foods include avocados, legumes and beans, sweet potatoes, garlic, and omega-3 fatty acid rich nuts such as walnuts and almonds.
- Consume packaged and processed food as these have high amounts of trans-fat.
- Lead a largely sedentary lifestyle. Do at least 120 minutes of exercise per week such as aerobics or jogging.
- Eliminate all sources of fat from your diet. Healthy fats will increase your HDL count and control LDL cholesterol.
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