Hypercholesterolemia is also called high cholesterol. It refers to increased levels of cholesterol in the blood.
Cholesterol is a type of lipid (fat), a waxy substance that helps build and maintain your cells, hormones, and some vitamins. But too much cholesterol can be a problem. People with high cholesterol levels are more prone to heart-related issues like heart attack and stroke.
Unfortunately, hypercholesterolemia is a common issue among U.S. adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost
This article will take a closer look at hypercholesterolemia. It will review causes, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment, and other helpful information.
Hypercholesterolemia vs. hyperlipidemia
You may have heard of the term “hyperlipidemia” in relation to high cholesterol levels. So, what’s the difference between hypercholesterolemia and hyperlipidemia?
Hyperlipidemia (also known as “lipid disorder”) refers to high lipids in your blood. If you have hyperlipidemia, you might have high levels of the following lipids:
- low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, commonly known as “bad” cholesterol
- triglycerides, or lipids that store unused calories in your blood
Therefore, hypercholesterolemia is a subtype of hyperlipidemia.
There are two types of hypercholesterolemia. These conditions have different causes.
Familial, or pure, hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a relatively rare genetic disorder. It affects about
If you have these mutations, your blood LDL cholesterol can reach dangerously high levels. People with FH can get coronary artery disease (the most common type of heart disease) at a young age.
Acquired hypercholesterolemia (AH) is a much more common condition. AH is usually due to an unhealthy diet that contains a lot of sugar, as well as saturated and trans fats, such as:
- red meat
- palm and coconut oil
- hydrogenated vegetable oil (an ingredient of some processed foods)
- fast food
- some fried foods
Common risk factors of hypercholesterolemia include:
- family history of high cholesterol, including either FH or AH
- a diet high in sugar and saturated or trans fats
- older age
- using tobacco products
- biological male gender
- limited physical activity
In most cases, hypercholesterolemia doesn’t cause symptoms. Some people may not even know they have it until they have a heart attack, stroke, or another serious complication. Because of that, it’s essential to check your cholesterol levels regularly.
If you have FH, lack of prompt treatment may cause the following
- chest pain or angina
- buildup of fat underneath the skin called xanthomas
- cholesterol-containing patches on your eyelids called xanthelasmas
Learn more about the symptoms and complications of high cholesterol.
Your doctor will likely diagnose hypercholesterolemia using a lipid panel. It measures your total cholesterol level, as well as your LDL cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.
If your LDL or total cholesterol (LDL plus HDL) levels are too high, your doctor may diagnose you with hypercholesterolemia.
The CDC recommends cholesterol screening
The first choice of treatment for hypercholesterolemia is usually lifestyle modification. For example, your doctor may recommend that you:
- change your diet
- increase physical activity
- quit smoking
Lifestyle changes are hard, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Your healthcare team will be able to guide and provide you with resources to help you achieve your goals.
In some cases, your doctor might prescribe medications to help lower your cholesterol levels. Statins are the most commonly prescribed medications for hypercholesterolemia. They block your liver from making extra cholesterol.
Read more about lowering your cholesterol with statins, diet, and exercise.
You can’t control genetic factors associated with hypercholesterolemia. But there are certain things you can do to
- include fiber in your diet and limit sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats
- maintain a healthy weight
- get regular exercise
- avoid smoking
- limit alcohol
- get regular cholesterol screenings
Hypercholesterolemia is commonly known as high cholesterol. There are two types of hypercholesterolemia: genetic and acquired. The first type is a less common genetic disorder, while the second is a condition that affects many U.S. adults.
Hypercholesterolemia rarely has symptoms, but its complications are very severe. It’s important to get regular preventive screenings, so it doesn’t go unchecked.
Although some medications can help lower your cholesterol, the best way to treat (and prevent) hypercholesterolemia is to maintain a healthy lifestyle.