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People with hyperlipidemia have too many lipids (fats) in their blood—namely, cholesterol and triglycerides.
Cholesterol is a waxy material produced by the body and is also found in animal products. It has several uses in the body and is an important part of cells. Although we commonly say “cholesterol,” the term actually includes 2 components: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Lipoproteins carry cholesterol through the blood stream. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is harmful (think L for lousy) because it can lead to the build-up of cholesterol in your arteries to form plaques. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is good (think H for healthy) because it helps your body get rid of cholesterol.
Triglycerides are another type of fat produced in your body. They are also found in food. High levels of triglycerides mainly result from lifestyle choices, including a poor diet, smoking, alcohol use, and the lack of exercise, but sometimes genetics play a role.
High cholesterol can lead to the build-up of plaque on the walls of your blood vessels, which can block your arteries and cause high blood pressure, a stroke, heart disease, or a heart attack. High triglycerides raise the risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which in turn increases your risk for heart disease and other disorders, including diabetes.
Eating a healthy, low-fat diet and getting more exercise are recommended for lowering both cholesterol and triglycerides, activities that may also help increase HDL cholesterol. To lower LDL cholesterol, you should eat less red meat and eggs; consume low-fat or fat-free dairy products such as skim milk to reduce saturated fat and cholesterol in your diet; eat less fried food and cook with healthy oils; eat more fiber, including fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains; and keep a healthy weight or lose weight.
To lower triglycerides, you should lose weight if you are overweight; increase your amount of physical activity; stop smoking and drinking alcohol; eat foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol; and eat fewer carbohydrates and sugary foods like desserts, regular soda, and juice.
Your doctor may also prescribe a medication, such as a statin. The advantages of statins far outweigh the potential adverse effects for most people with hyperlipidemia. Before prescribing a medication, your doctor will evaluate your history of heart attack or artery blockages, as well as consider factors such as age, weight, family history, and presence of smoking, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institutehttp://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc
National Library of Medicinehttp://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/triglycerides.html
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA’s website at jama.com. Many are published in English and Spanish. A JAMA Patient Page on Statins was published on April 3, 2013.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: The author has completed and submitted the ICMJE Form for Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest and none were reported.
Sources: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Library of Medicine.
Correction: This article was corrected on November 19, 2013, for a factual error in the first sentence.
Sugerman DT. Blood Lipids. JAMA. 2013;310(16):1751. doi:10.1001/jama.2013.280593