Lipids are fatty substances in the blood, and include cholesterol and triglycerides. All lipids play important roles throughout the body, but abnormal levels in the blood can cause problems. High levels of lipids may be caused by one or a combination of:
High levels of lipids in the blood can contribute to a buildup of plaque in the inside walls of the blood vessels. This build up causes a thickening and hardening of the blood vessel walls known as atherosclerosis. The damaged blood vessels make it difficult for blood to flow freely and in some cases can cause a blockage of blood flow. If the blockage occurs in the heart or brain it can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Two types of lipids are cholesterol and triglycerides.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is used to build cells and hormones. Most of your cholesterol is made inside the body, but some comes from the foods we eat such as dairy products, meat, and fish.
There are 2 main types of cholesterol:
Abnormal cholesterol levels are sometimes caused by genetic conditions or medications that lead to low HDL or high LDL levels. However, cholesterol problems can also come from a combination of dietary choices and low levels of physical activity.
Triglycerides are a type of fat that your body can store away and use for energy when needed. They are made from unused or extra calories that we eat. Triglycerides move throughout the body in the blood. High levels of this fat in the blood can contribute to a plaque build up in blood vessels.
High triglycerides can be caused by a high calorie diet, especially one high in carbohydrates but is also often associated with other conditions such as:
About cholesterol. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/About-Cholesterol_UCM_001220_Article.jsp#.VxfkDk2FMdU. Updated July 15, 2013. Accessed January 9, 2014.
American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association. 2013 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Treatment of Blood Cholesterol to Reduce Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Risk in Adults. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013: early online. Available at: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/early/2013/11/11/01.cir.0000437738.63853.7a.full.pdf. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Hypercholesterolemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 20, 2013. Accessed January 13, 2014.
Hypertriglyceridemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated November 20, 2013. Accessed January 13, 2014.
What is cholesterol? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc. Updated September 19, 2012. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Last reviewed March 2016 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.