High total or LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, and high triglycerides are known as dyslipidemia.

Dyslipidemia increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other health issues. Genetics, weight, and medication side effects are among the most common reasons dyslipidemia develops.

Triglycerides are fats in your blood that come from your food and supply your cells with energy. Cholesterol is a group of molecules made up of fat and protein. Your body needs them to build cells and create hormones.

The two main types of cholesterol are high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL is often called bad cholesterol since it can cause plaque buildup in your blood vessels. HDL is often called good cholesterol since it removes LDL from your blood.

Read on to learn more about what can cause high triglycerides and low HDL, or high LDL, and how you can get these molecules into a healthy range.

High triglycerides, low HDL, and high LDL increase your risk of developing potentially life threatening health problems. They generally don’t cause noticeable symptoms until they’re severe.

Atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), high triglycerides, low HDL, and high LDL are risk factors for the development of atherosclerosis, which is a narrowing of your arteries caused by plaque buildup.

Atherosclerosis restricts blood flow and increases your risk of developing cardiovascular issues, including:

Cardiovascular disease caused by atherosclerosis is the world’s leading cause of death, according to 2017 research.

High blood pressure

High total cholesterol and blood pressure often occur together. A 2021 study found that high total cholesterol levels are positively correlated to high blood pressure.

In a 2016 study, researchers found that in a Japanese working-age male population, high total cholesterol levels and LDL levels significantly increased the risk of developing high blood pressure.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition that causes the accumulation of fat in your liver, which can lead to liver damage and serious complications. According to 2020 research, its development is linked to:

Acute pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is a potentially serious condition that causes sudden inflammation of your pancreas. Most cases resolve by themselves, but it can also lead to serious complications like kidney failure.

Research from 2018 has found that your risk of developing acute pancreatitis can rarely increase with a higher level of triglycerides in your blood.

Here’s a look at the optimal levels for HDL, LDL, and triglycerides, according to the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines:

HDL levels

CategoryHDL level
Lowless than 40 mg/dL
Borderline low41–59 mg/dL
Optimalabove 60 mg/dL

LDL levels

CategoryLDL level
Optimalless than 100 mg/dL
Near-optimal100–129 mg/dL
Borderline high130–159 mg/dL
High160–189 mg/dL
Very highabove 190 mg/dL

Triglyceride levels

CategoryTriglyceride level
Averageless than 150 mg/dL
Mildly elevated150–499 mg/dL
Moderately elevated500–886 mg/dL
Severely elevatedabove 886 mg/dL

Despite being called good cholesterol, research suggests that very high levels of HDL may increase your risk of mortality.

In a 2017 Danish study, researchers analyzed the rate of mortality in groups of 52,268 European men and 64,240 women over an average of 6.4 years.

The researchers found the lowest mortality rates at HDL levels of 73 mg/dL in men and 93 mg/dL in women. Mortality rates increased significantly with HDL levels above 97 mg/dL in men and 135 mg/dL in women.

Note on existing studies

More research is needed to fully understand whether very high HDL levels increase the risk of death.

The authors of a 2019 study suggest that genetic mutations linked to very high HDL levels, impaired HDL function at high levels, and potential bias in research due to flaws in study design may contribute to the potential link found in some studies.

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A number of health conditions can negatively impact your lipid levels. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, these conditions include:

A number of medications, like birth control, diuretics, and HIV medications, can also negatively impact lipid levels.

If your doctor doesn’t expect lifestyle changes will be enough to lower your triglyceride levels to a healthy range, they may recommend medications.

Over-the-counter treatments

Some of the over-the-counter treatments that may help you treat dyslipidemia include:

It’s important to speak with your doctor before taking any new dietary supplements.

Prescription treatments

Statins are the most common medication used to treat dyslipidemia. Your doctor may also recommend prescription-strength:

Your doctor may also prescribe cholesterol absorption inhibitors or bile acid resins.

Your doctor can help you develop a plan to lower your triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Here’s a look at some of the lifestyle changes you can make.


The 2020 to 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend keeping your intake of saturated fat under 10 percent of your daily calories and replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats.

The AHA recommends cooking with vegetable oil and limiting:

  • red meat
  • dairy products made from whole milk
  • fried food
  • processed meats
  • sodium
  • sugar-sweetened foods

Research from 2021 has found that a diet high in monounsaturated fats helps reduce LDL levels and increase HDL levels. Olive oil and avocado oil are high in monounsaturated fats.

The 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates reduces LDL and total cholesterol but increases triglycerides and reduces HDL.

Soluble fiber

A 2015 review of studies found that eating whole grains can reduce your LDL and total cholesterol but doesn’t decrease HDL or triglycerides. The researchers found that whole grain oats seem to be the most effective.


Exercise can help you maintain a moderate weight. According to the Obesity Action Coalition, every extra 10 pounds produces about an additional 10 milligrams of cholesterol a day. Weight loss of about 20 pounds has been found to lower LDL by 15 percent, triglycerides by 30 percent, and increase HDL levels.

Cut down on alcohol

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends limiting alcohol to improve cholesterol levels. They suggest men should have no more than two drinks per day while women should have no more than one.

Quit smoking

Smoking has been found to decrease your good cholesterol and increase your bad cholesterol. The CDC recommends quitting if you currently smoke and avoiding starting if you don’t. While this is often difficult, a doctor can help create a cessation plan that works for you.

If you have high triglycerides or high cholesterol, your doctor can help you decide on a treatment plan. Often, lifestyle changes alone are enough to manage your blood lipid levels. Your doctor may also recommend taking medications if you have severe dyslipidemia.

It’s important to have your cholesterol and triglyceride levels monitored regularly so you can see how they’re changing over time. The CDC recommends that adults with a low risk for cardiovascular disease get tested once every 5 years. People at risk for cardiovascular disease should be tested more often.

High triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol, and low HDL cholesterol increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Weight, genetics, and medications are among the most common causes of high triglycerides and cholesterol.

Your doctor can advise you about how lifestyle changes and medications may help you lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.