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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.

At the UPMC Division of Vascular Surgery, we work with primary care doctors, cardiologists, and other experts to diagnose and treat hyperlipidemia and its associated disorders.

Contact the UPMC Heart & Vascular Institute

Request an appointment online, call 1-855-876-2484 (UPMC-HVI), or email us.

What Is Hyperlipidemia?

Lipids are types of fat in your body. You need a certain amount of lipids, like cholesterol and triglycerides, for your body to work properly.

When you have too many lipids in your blood, doctors call this hyperlipidemia. It means you have high cholesterol or high triglycerides.

Over time, this can cause atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

Cholesterol is a waxy fat-like substance that your body needs to make hormones and vitamin D. It also aids digestion.

Your body makes cholesterol naturally, but it's also in some foods including:

  • Meat, fish, and poultry
  • Egg yolks
  • Whole milk dairy products

There are two types of cholesterol:

  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL), sometimes called “good” cholesterol. HDL carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver, which then removes it from your body. A higher level of HDL is better.
  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), sometimes called “bad” cholesterol. LDL causes the buildup of plaque in your blood vessels. A lower level of LDL is better.

Triglycerides are a type of fat that your body releases for energy between meals. If you eat more calories than you burn, your body fails to release triglycerides and your levels may be too high.

Hyperlipidemia causes and risk factors

Genetics and lifestyle cause hyperlipidemia. The disease is most common in the United States and Europe.

Some hyperlipidemia risk factors include:

  • Eating a high-fat diet
  • Being physically inactive
  • Diabetes
  • Family history

Hyperlipidemia complications

Hyperlipidemia can cause atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

This can lead to serious, sometimes life-threatening conditions like:

For an appointment with a UPMC vascular surgeon, complete an appointment request form or call 1-855-876-2484 (UPMC-HVI).

Hyperlipidemia Symptoms and Diagnosis


You may have hyperlipidemia and have no symptoms.

As plaque slowly builds up in your blood vessels over time, symptoms can vary based on the affected arteries.

Hyperlipidemia symptoms may include:

  • Symptoms of peripheral artery disease (PAD), including:
    • Leg discomfort.
    • Leg pain or cramping that occurs when walking and is relieved at rest (intermittent claudication).
    • Pain in the ball of the foot or toes, while at rest, as PAD progresses.
    • In more severe forms, painful foot ulcers, blue or black discoloration of the toes, infections, and gangrene.
  • Symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke, including:
    • Sudden, severe headache.
    • Weakness, numbness, or tingling on one side of your body (one arm and/or leg).
    • Loss of movement of one arm or leg.
    • Partial vision loss in one eye (often described as pulling down a window shade).
    • Inability to speak clearly or express your thoughts.
  • Symptoms of a heart attack, including:
    • Chest pain, which may feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest.
    • Pain or pressure in your shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back.
    • Shortness of breath.
  • Angina
    • Chest pain that happens when your heart muscle can't get enough oxygen.

Diagnosing hyperlipidemia

To diagnose hyperlipidemia, your doctor will take a blood sample to check your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Your blood test results will fall into one of these types:

  • Normal
    • Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL.
    • Triglycerides: less than 150 mg/dL.
  • Borderline High
    • Cholesterol: 200-239 mg/dL.
    • Triglycerides: 150-199 mg/dL.
  • High
    • Cholesterol: more than 240 mg/dL.
    • Triglycerides: 200-499 mg/dL.
  • Very High
    • Triglycerides: more than 500 mg/dL.

For an appointment with a UPMC vascular surgeon, complete an appointment request form or call 1-855-876-2484 (UPMC-HVI).

Hyperlipidemia Treatment

Treatment for hyperlipidemia often starts with lifestyle changes, including:

  • Switching to a low-fat diet.
  • Increasing physical activity.
  • Losing weight.

Another common treatment includes drugs to lower your lipid levels.

If you have blockage in your blood vessels, your doctor may suggest:

  • Angioplasty and stenting use a balloon to expand metal mesh tubes that open up blocked blood vessels.
  • Endarterectomy is surgery to remove plaque from your blood vessels.
  • Bypass surgery creates a bypass around a blocked blood vessel.

For an appointment with a UPMC vascular surgeon, complete an appointment request form or call 1-855-876-2484 (UPMC-HVI).