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Familial Hyperlipidemia

Hyperlipidemia defines an elevated level of lipids — like cholesterol and triglycerides — in your blood. Doctors link this disease to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) and other serious conditions like heart attack, stroke, and peripheral artery disease.

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To request an appointment, contact the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute:

What Is Hyperlipidemia?

Lipids — like cholesterol and triglycerides — are a type of fat in the blood. You need lipids to function, but too much of this fat puts you at risk for certain health problems.

People with too much cholesterol and triglycerides have hyperlipidemia, which can increase their risk of:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Artery disease

Types of hyperlipidemia

  • Acquired hyperlipidemia may be from certain behaviors you do (or don't do). Other times, medicine or other health problems can cause the disease. Some people acquire it from their parents.
  • Familial hypercholesterolemia is one type of genetic hyperlipidemia. A change in the gene that moves cholesterol out of the body instead causes it to build up on the artery walls.
  • Familial hypertriglyceridemia is another type of genetic hyperlipidemia. It causes triglyceride levels to become too high.

Hyperlipidemia causes

Acquired hyperlipidemia has a few possible causes:

  • Eating a high-fat diet.
  • Being inactive or not getting enough exercise.
  • Being obese.
  • Having another disease, like diabetes.
  • Menopause in women.

Familial hyperlipidemias occur when a parent passes on the genes that cause these conditions.

Hyperlipidemia risk factors and complications

Anyone can be at risk for acquired hyperlipidemia, but it often occurs in people who:

  • Are overweight and idle.
  • Have other health issues.
  • Take certain drugs.

You're at risk for genetic hyperlipidemia if a family member has it. If so, you should have a test for the disease.

Hyperlipidemia can cause fatty deposits, known as plaque, to build up on the body's blood vessel walls.

Plaque can cause problems such as:

  • Atherosclerosis, or hardened arteries.
  • Coronary heart disease when blood vessels can't provide enough oxygen to the heart.
  • Heart attack.
  • Stroke.
  • Peripheral artery disease, or disease in the vessels of the arms or legs.

Why Choose the Center for Inherited Heart Disease for Hyperlipidemia Care?

We use a team approach to treat hyperlipidemia. A heart disease expert leads this team, which includes pharmacists and dietitians.

We offer:

  • Treatment plans tailored to your needs.
  • Prescribed drugs to help control your disease.
  • Lifestyle suggestions to improve treatment results.
  • The latest genetic heart disease research and clinical trials.

Hyperlipidemia Symptoms and Diagnosis

If you have hyperlipidemia, you might not have any symptoms.

But, as it gets worse, you might notice:

  • Leg cramps, mostly in your calves.
  • Pain in your feet or toes.
  • Chest pain.
  • Trouble breathing, or shortness of breath when you're active.
  • Confusion or trouble speaking.
  • Weakness, often in your arm.

Doctors at the Center for Inherited Heart Disease use blood tests to diagnose hyperlipidemia.

They'll also ask you about your family history and any other health problems you have.

Hyperlipidemia Treatment

Doctors might suggest lifestyle changes, such as being more active and eating healthier foods.

They might also prescribe medication to lower lipid levels.

At your first visit, you'll meet with our:

  • Food and nutrition expert to discuss your current diet and changes you should make.
  • Pharmacist to look at your current meds and any new drugs that might be right for you.
  • Heart doctor to learn about your health and family history, and to go over any test results.

Your care team will then design a hyperlipidemia treatment plan that supports your health goals. It might also include follow-up visits with other UPMC experts.