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What is dyslipidemia?


Dyslipidemia is an abnormal amount of lipids (or fats) in the blood. In the United States, most abnormalities fall into the category of  elevated lipids, or hypercholesterolemia, commonly referred to as high cholesterol.


It is important to know that not all cholesterol is bad.   Your body uses cholesterol  to build new cells and make some hormones. However, too much of certain fats and not enough of others  increases your risk for heart disease. Understanding the  different types of  lipids and knowing your numbers will help you know if you need to take action!


How is dyslipidemia diagnosed?


A simple blood test,  called a lipid panel, is all that is needed to diagnose dyslipidemia.   Most of the time you will be asked to have your blood work drawn after you have fasted, meaning you have not had anything to eat or drink for 8-10 hours.  (Water and black coffee will not affect your cholesterol test and are usually allowed.) If you have not fasted prior to having your blood work done make sure you tell your healthcare provider so your results can be interpreted correctly.


What is included in a lipid panel?


A standard lipid panel  reports the levels of  total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and Triglycerides.


Total cholesterol is the measure of all the cholesterol in your blood sample.  A normal total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/ dL.


HDL cholesterol is  commonly referred to as “good cholesterol”.   HDL helps pick up excess  LDL “bad cholesterol” in your blood stream and carry it to your liver, where it is broken down and removed.   HDL helps lower your risk of heart disease.   The higher your HDL, the lower your risk for heart disease, so optimally it should be higher than 60 mg/dL.


LDL cholesterol is commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol”.   LDL is not all bad, but too much of it is.  Excess LDL attaches to the lining of your blood vessel walls, this is called building plaque, and narrows your blood vessels.   Left untreated  it can eventually cause a decrease in blood flow.   An abrupt interruption in  blood flow to your heart is called a heart attack. If part of the plaque breaks off and travels to your brain, disrupting blood flow to your brain,  it is called a stroke.  A normal LDL is less than 100 mg/ dL, but it should be lower if you have health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes.


Trigylcerides are how your body stores the excess calories you eat.  Regularly consuming more calories than you burn causes an elevation in triglycerides. An optimal triglyceride level is less than 150 mg/ dL.


In people who have a higher  than normal risk for cardiovascular disease an advanced, or extended,  lipid panel may be ordered.   This type of test provides more detail about other types of fats in your blood that can increase your risk of heart disease.   Because advanced testing is more expensive than a standard lipid panel it is not usually ordered for cholesterol screening.


What are the symptoms of  dyslipidemia?


Symptoms of dyslipidemia often appear only  after significant damage to your vessels has been done.  Decreased blood flow to the heart may cause fatigue,  chest pain or a heart attack.   Decreased  blood flow in your legs may lead to pain in your legs when your walk or wounds that do not heal. Interrupted blood flow to your brain can cause a stroke.  Stones made up of cholesterol can form in your gallbladder and cause abdominal pain. Plaque can even build up in the vessels that supply blood to your eyes and damage  your vision.  Because the damage from high cholesterol can be permanent it is important to prevent the complications before they occur.


Where do cholesterol and triglycerides come from?


Cholesterol and triglycerides come from two main sources,  our body and our diet.  Some people are genetically predisposed to have high cholesterol, but it is far more common to have dyslipidemia because of an unhealthy lifestyle, mainly poor dietary choices.


What can I do to lower my cholesterol and triglycerides?


Eat a healthy diet.  Fill your plate with fruits, vegetables and high fiber foods.  Animal products are typically high in saturated fats and should limited. Choose fish (especially those high in good fats like salmon or mackerel), seeds and nuts over red meat and pork.   Restrict simple sugars, alcohol and starches (like bread, rice, pasta, potato, corn) that contribute to elevated triglycerides.  Also avoid processed foods since they are often high in calories and contain trans fats that are known to increase bad cholesterol. Choose healthier oils, such as olive or canola, when cooking.


Control your calorie intake and maintain a healthy weight.  To maintain your weight, burn what you eat.  Avoid consuming more calories than you need.   If you need to loose weight, burn more calories than you consume.


Exercise regularly.  Cardiovascular exercise has proven to  lower LDL and triglycerides while raising HDL.  Make exercise a part of your everyday plan.   Try to get at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise at least 5 days per week.   Of course, more is better!  Take a long walk, go hiking, dance, swim, jump rope, play basketball or soccer. Look for ways to get more exercise in during your day.  For example, take the stairs instead of the elevator or park farther from the door at the store.   It all adds up!


Talk to your healthcare provider.   Don’t wait until the first sign of high cholesterol to talk to healthcare provider. Set up an appointment to ask about how often you should be screened.  Follow up to review your results with your doctor or nurse practitioner. Let them know if you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease or other risk factors such as diabetes.  Be prepared to talk about your own risks such as obesity, smoking, diabetes or high blood pressure. They may give you some tips for   lifestyle changes to help lower your risk,  prescribe medications, or both.



Managing and controlling your cholesterol is a life long commitment. Partnering with your healthcare provider, knowing your numbers and understanding your risk can help you make choices that lead to a healthier you!



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