Hyperlipidemia means that there are too many lipids, or fats, in your blood. Over time, these fats can block your arteries and lead to serious health complications. About 50% of adults in the United States have hyperlipidemia.

Hyperlipidemia can be hard to identify in the early stages. It normally doesn’t cause any symptoms, and most people don’t know they have it until they get back the results of a blood test after a visit to a doctor.

However, in rare cases, such as when hyperlipidemia is caused by a genetic condition, some minor symptoms can occur. Even in these cases, the only way to diagnose hyperlipidemia is with a blood test from a doctor. It’s a good idea to talk with a doctor about your risk and to ask for a blood test if you’re concerned.

Often, people have hyperlipidemia without realizing it. It’s very common for the condition not to cause any symptoms at all.

When symptoms occur, they generally happen when a person has an inherited condition that causes their lipid levels to be high. Symptoms may also occur if hyperlipemia has led to a complication, such as heart disease, which has its own symptoms.

Symptoms associated with familial combined hyperlipidemia (FCHL) include:

  • waxy, yellow, plaques of fat on the skin around the joints or eyes, called xanthomas
  • rings around the iris of the eye called corneal arcus

Symptoms associated with complications of hyperlipidemia include:

Cholesterol testing is often part of routine blood work at a standard doctor’s visit. How often you test for lipid levels depends on if you have any family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, or stroke.

The American Heart Association recommends a cholesterol reading for adults at low risk at least once every 4 to 6 years. After age 40, it’s best to discuss your personal risk with a doctor to determine how often you should check your blood lipid levels.

If you notice waxy, yellow buildups in your skin or unusual rings around your eyes, it’s a good idea to contact a doctor. Additionally, it’s always best to get medical care if you have any symptoms that could indicate a complication of hyperlipidemia.

Hyperlipidemia is diagnosed with a medical exam and a blood test called a lipid panel. During your medical exam, a doctor will review your and your family’s medical history. It’s important for your doctor to know if hyperlipidemia runs in your family.

A lipid panel will measure your:

Your results will indicate whether you have hyperlipidemia or are at risk of hyperlipidemia.

There are different types of hyperlipidemia. Doctors define them based on the levels of the different lipids in your blood. These include:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), optimal lipid levels are as follows:

LipidLevel (mg/dL)
Total cholesterolAbout 150
LDL cholesterolAbout 100
HDL cholesterolMen: 40 or higher
Women: 50 or higher
TriglyceridesLess than 150

Cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries. This makes it difficult for blood to flow correctly through your body. As a result, you can experience serious complications, such as:

  • Chest pain: Chest pain from angina can happen when your arteries are blocked, causing reduced blood flow to your heart.
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD): CAD is a common type of heart disease that can lead to a heart attack. Damage to your coronary arteries, the arteries that supply your heart with blood, causes CAD.
  • Heart attack: Hyperlipidemia can cause a heart attack. This can be due to CAD or plaque completely blocking blood flow to your heart.
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD): Your peripheral arteries supply blood to your limbs. When plaque restricts blood flow in these arteries, it can cause symptoms such as numbness, swelling, tingling, and pain.
  • Blood clots: Plaques can rupture and cause blood clots to form.
  • Stroke: When blood clots form, they can block the blood flow to your brain, resulting in a stroke.

To treat hyperlipidemia, doctors will first recommend lifestyle changes. For some people, this is enough to permanently control their condition, lower their cholesterol, and avoid complications.

Lifestyle changes include:

Others may need a combination of medication and lifestyle changes to manage hyperlipidemia. Statins are the most common medications taken for hyperlipidemia.

You and a doctor can work together to create the best plan for you.

People with hyperlipidemia normally don’t experience any symptoms. In most cases, doctors will identify hyperlipidemia during routine blood work. There are exceptions, though.

People with a genetic condition called FCHL can have symptoms such as waxy yellow buildup in their skin and cholesterol rings around their eyes. Additionally, people with complications from hyperlipidemia may have symptoms.

Many complications of hyperlipidemia are serious and even life threatening. It’s a good idea to talk with a doctor about your risk of hyperlipidemia and to test for your lipid levels.