High amounts of fats, or lipids, in the bloodstream are caused by several conditions that are categorized under the term hyperlipidemia. While it is normal to have fats in the bloodstream, including cholesterol, cholesterol-esters, phospholipids, and triglycerides, when the levels of any of these become too high it can cause atherosclerosis, or plaque build-up in the arteries.
When hyperlipidemia leads to atherosclerosis, there is a risk for the condition to then develop into coronary heart disease (CHD) or peripheral artery disease (PAD) when the amount of plaque in the arteries begins to cut off flow of blood in the leg(s) or heart muscle.
Risk Factors for Hyperlipidemia
One of the primary causes of hyperlipidemia is a diet high in cholesterol and/or fat, as well as the predictably unhealthy lifestyle choices, including lack of exercise or leading a sedentary life, smoking, obesity, and excessive consumption of alcohol. A person with high blood cholesterol, or low HDL cholesterol, is at greater risk. Certain medications can also cause hyperlipidemia. Pregnancy is also a risk factor.
While the patient has varying degree of control over the above risk factors, it is not possible to control others, such as having a family history of early heart disease, or being a man over 45 years of age or a woman over 55 years of age.
Doctors recommend change in exercise habits and diet as a first method of treating the condition. If the patient is a smoker, he or she should quit immediately upon being diagnosed with hyperlipidemia. A healthy diet and weight management are also first-line defenses in minimizing the progression of the condition.
In some cases, physicians will prescribe medications in conjunction with the above lifestyle changes, particularly in cases where the condition is caused by family history.