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Cholesterol Disorders Learning Center

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Cholesterol Disorders

What Is a Lipid Disorder?

A lipid disorder describes a condition in which you have high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and fats called triglycerides.

People with high LDL cholesterol and high triglycerides are at an increased risk of developing heart disease.

Cholesterol

There are two forms of cholesterol found in the body, high-density lipoprotein and low-density lipoprotein. High-density lipoprotein (HDL)—“good cholesterol”—protects the heart. This form of cholesterol transports harmful cholesterol out of the arteries. Doctors usually recommend that you have a high level of HDL cholesterol.

Low-density lipoprotein is also called “bad cholesterol.” It is made by the body and is also absorbed from cholesterol-rich foods such as red meat and full-fat dairy. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) may fuse together with other fats and substances. This creates an obstruction in the arteries. This in turn leads to reduced blood flow, which can cause serious health complications.

Triglycerides

A triglyceride is a type of fat that is ingested from the food we eat and produced by the body when excess calories are converted to fat for storage. Like all fat in the body, some is necessary for the proper functioning of cells, but too much is unhealthy. People with high cholesterol often have a raised level of triglycerides.

What Causes High Blood Cholesterol and High Triglycerides?

High blood cholesterol and high triglycerides can be caused by medical conditions or bad dietary habits.

Food

Foods that contain a “bad fat” called saturated fat can cause an increase in cholesterol. Saturated fat is a solid at room temperature. It is naturally found in animal-based foods such as cheese, milk, butter, and steak. Some plant-based foods such as palm oil and coconut oil contain saturated fats.

Trans fat (trans-fatty acids) are fats that have undergone a hydrogenation process. Some trans fats are also found in animal products. These fats are normally found in peanut butter, margarine, and potato chips.

Foods that are high in these two substances lower HDL levels and increase LDL levels. This decreases your defenses against heart disease and stroke and increases your risk for developing these conditions.

Medical Conditions

High triglycerides are caused by high levels of cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes. High blood cholesterol levels can come from:

  • diabetes
  • hypothyroidism
  • metabolic syndrome
  • medication side effects
  • Cushing’s syndrome
  • polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • kidney diseases

What Else Causes of High Cholesterol?

A lack of exercise can cause an increase in LDL. Exercise is shown to boost healthy HDL cholesterol. Smoking can also increase bad cholesterol by causing plaque to build up in the arteries.

How Can I Tell if My Cholesterol or Triglycerides Are High?

High cholesterol doesn’t have any symptoms. Symptoms only appear after significant damage has been done due to the increased cholesterol.

How Is a Lipid Disorder Diagnosed?

High cholesterol and triglycerides are detected by a blood test. This test is called a lipid profile. A lipid profile measures your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. Before having this test, your doctor may ask that you refrain from eating and drinking liquids other than water for at least 12 hours before the test.

The lipid profile measures cholesterol in milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter, which is depicted as dL.

Cholesterol Readings

LDL Cholesterol

  • Best Result: Below 70 mg/dL
  • Moderate: 130 to159 mg/dL
  • Poor: 160 to 189 mg/dL

HDL Cholesterol

  • Best Result: Above 60 mg/dL
  • Moderate: 50 to 59 mg/dL
  • Poor: Below 40 mg/dL (for men); Below 50 mg/dL (for women)

Triglycerides

  • Best Result: Below 150 mg/dL
  • Moderate: 150 to 199 mg/dL
  • Poor: 200 to 499 mg/dL

Your total cholesterol level should be no higher than 200mg/dL.

What Are the Treatment Options for a Lipid Disorder?

A combination of exercise and medications are often used to correct high cholesterol and triglycerides.

Medications

Statins are used most commonly to treat high cholesterol. This medication works by blocking a substance created in your liver to produce cholesterol. In turn, your liver begins to remove cholesterol from your blood. Statins may also absorb cholesterol trapped in the arteries.

Commonly prescribed statins include:

  • Atorvastatin (Lipitor)
  • Fluvastatin (Lescol)
  • Rosuvastatin (Crestor)
  • Simvastatin (Zocor)

Cholesterol absorption inhibitors lower your cholesterol by limiting your body’s absorption of dietary cholesterol. Sometimes this medication is combined with statins.

Bile-acid-binding resins are also used to lower high blood cholesterol. These medications work by trapping the bile resins (which contain cholesterol) and prevent them from being reabsorbed in your small intestine.

Fibrates lower high triglyceride levels in the blood.

Supplements

One common supplement used to lower triglycerides and LDL is omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that work to increase your heart’s health. These fats are naturally found in fatty fish such as salmon. Plant oils such as canola and olive oil also contain omega-3. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, omega-6 fatty acids are also shown to lower LDL (Harvard, 2012).

Niacin is used to increase the level of HDL production. Niacin is available as an over-the-counter supplement and also in prescription strength formulations. Also, according to the Mayo Clinic, niacin is not effective at reducing triglycerides (Mayo, 2011).

How Can I Prevent High Cholesterol and Triglycerides?

To keep heart-healthy, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating no more than seven percent of your daily caloric intake in saturated fat. They also recommend limiting trans-fat to no more than one percent (AHA). Eating plenty of whole grains, fruit, and vegetables can also help decrease high cholesterol.

Other ways you can encourage a healthy cholesterol level is by:

  • choosing skinless poultry with no visible fat
  • choosing lean meat
  • eating low-fat or fat-free dairy products
  • consuming polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fat sources in place of saturated and trans-fats
  • participating in regular exercise at least 30 minutes per day, four days a week
  • avoid fast food, junk food, and processed meats
  • eat grilled and roasted foods instead of fried foods

Future Health Complications

Complications from high cholesterol and triglycerides affect the heart. These complications include heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Content licensed from:

Written by: April Kahn
Published on Jun 30, 2012
Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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