Symptoms of Hyperlipidemia

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Hyperlipidemia is characterized by high levels of lipids in the blood, including cholesterol and triglycerides. Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance made by the liver, and your body needs it to perform several essential functions.

On the other hand, triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. Your body changes these extra calories into triglycerides and stores them in fat cells. When your body needs energy, it releases the triglycerides.

Too much cholesterol and triglycerides can contribute to serious health problems, such as heart disease and stroke. When fat builds up in the arteries, which transport blood from the heart to other parts of the body, the arteries become narrow, reducing or blocking blood flow.

You may not notice you have hyperlipidemia right away because high cholesterol and triglycerides doesn’t usually cause any symptoms. The only way to know for sure is to have a healthcare professional check your cholesterol levels.

High cholesterol

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Frequent Symptoms

High levels of fat in the blood can go unnoticed for a long time because hyperlipidemia rarely comes with any symptoms.

Hyperlipidemia is generally diagnosed during a routine doctor’s appointment. Sometimes high cholesterol and triglyceride levels aren’t diagnosed until they reach critical levels.

Hyperlipidemia may contribute to a number of chronic diseases, which present with their own symptoms. These include:

These conditions share similar symptoms that signal blockage in your blood flow. How severe the symptoms are—or whether you notice them at all—depends on how severely blood flow is restricted and where the disruption is occurring. Symptoms of these conditions can include:

Another common symptom of hyperlipidemia is small fatty deposits that build up under the skin, usually around the eyes. These deposits, called xanthomas, form when certain types of fat collect under the skin. They vary in size and location, and are generally harmless by themselves outside of signaling more serious issues.

Rare Symptoms

Since there are few symptoms clearly associated with hyperlipidemia, there are even fewer rare symptoms. In some cases, high cholesterol is linked to increased levels of triglycerides, another type of fatty substance that can build up in the body. High triglyceride levels can lead to conditions like pancreatitis.

Complications

Hyperlipidemia can result in a number of serious conditions that can occur suddenly, resulting in a medical emergency. These complications can include:

When to See a Doctor

Regular visits with your healthcare provider are an important part of hyperlipidemia care. Many of the conditions related to hyperlipidemia can be caught and treated early though regular physical exams and blood tests.

Cholesterol should be checked starting early in life—even children and adolescents should have their cholesterol checked.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that most adults have a cholesterol screening every four to six years. You may need more frequent screenings if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney problems, or a family history of high cholesterol.

What Are the Types of Hyperlipidemia?

There are two types of hyperlipidemia. Familial hyperlipidemia includes familial hypercholesterolemia (genetic elevations in cholesterol), familial hypertriglyceridemia (genetic elevations in triglycerides), or familial combined hyperlipidemia (elevations in both cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as other lipids). Acquired hyperlipidemia includes either (or both) elevated cholesterol and elevated triglycerides.

Cholesterol screenings are relatively simple, but do require some preparation. If your healthcare provider wants to check your cholesterol levels, a lipid panel will be ordered. This test will measure your:

  • LDL cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein or “bad” cholesterol
  • HDL cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol
  • Triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood that your body uses for energy
  • Total cholesterol, the total amount of cholesterol in your blood based on your HDL, LDL, and triglycerides numbers

The test is performed by drawing one or more tubes of blood in a lab. You will need to be sure to fast, meaning avoid eating or drinking anything except for water, for nine to 12 hours before your blood test.

For most adults, the following cholesterol levels are recommended:

  • Total cholesterol: 125 to 200 mg/dL
  • Non-HDL: Less than 130 mg/dL
  • LDL: Less than 100 mg/dL
  • HDL: More than 40 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL

When to Call 911

If you or a loved one experiences sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, or unconsciousness, you should call 911 or go to the emergency room. These can be signs of a heart attack. You should also seek medical attention right away if you or a loved one has numbness, confusion, vision problems, difficulty walking, and intense headaches. These may be symptoms of a stroke.

Summary

Hyperlipidemia is typically not accompanied by any particular signs or symptoms, which makes it difficult to recognize. The only way to check is through blood tests. You may experience symptoms like shortness of breath and chest pain if your hyperlipidemia contributes to other conditions. Therefore, it’s important for you to have your levels checked regularly starting from a young age.

A Word From Verywell

Hyperlipidemia can be dangerous to your health and develop with almost no symptoms. Be sure to see a healthcare provider for regular exams and discuss any family history or risk factors that may increase your chances of having elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Your doctor can recommend medications and lifestyle changes to help you avoid serious complications that result from hyperlipidemia.

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