Dyslipidemia Causes and Treatment

Being told that you have dyslipidemia can be scary. However, this broad term used to signify that you have one or more parameters on your lipid profile that may be too low or elevated. Luckily, depending on the types of lipids affected, there are many ways to treat this condition – ranging from taking medication to making a few changes in your lifestyle.

Goose fat, clarified butter, hydrogenated palm oil, duck fat, lard, and margarine
Maximilian Stock Ltd. / Getty Images


Dyslipidemia is a medical condition that refers to an abnormal level of blood lipids. The most common type of dyslipidemia is hyperlipidemia or high lipid levels. Another, less common form of dyslipidemia, hypolipidemia, refers to lipid levels that are abnormally low. Dyslipidemias can affect any lipid parameter, including LDL cholesterol levels, HDL cholesterol levels, triglycerides, or a combination of these lipids.

When only cholesterol levels are high or low, this is referred to as hypercholesterolemia or hypocholesterolemia, respectively. Sometimes, these may also be called a hyperlipoproteinemia or hypolipoproteinemia. When triglycerides are only affected, this may be referred to as hypertriglyceridemia (high triglyceride levels) or hypotriglyceridemia (low triglyceride levels). Conversely, if an individual has both triglyceride and cholesterol levels affected, this is referred to as a “combined” or “mixed” dyslipidemia.


There are many factors that can cause dyslipidemia—ranging from inherited disorders to your lifestyle. The causes of dyslipidemia can be divided into two main categories: primary or secondary dyslipidemia.

Primary dyslipidemia refers to abnormal lipid levels that are caused by a mutated gene or genes inherited from one or both parents. The defective genes may cause an abnormal clearance of lipids or may modify how certain lipids are made in the body. If dyslipidemia runs in the family, the disease will often have the term “familial” in their name to denote that it is an inherited condition. Individuals with primary dyslipidemias involving increased LDL are at a high risk of developing atherosclerosis early in life, which can lead to premature cardiovascular disease.

Secondary dyslipidemia, on the other hand, is more common and occurs due to a variety of factors involving certain aspects of your lifestyle or certain medical conditions you may have. Secondary hyperlipidemias may be caused by:

  • Poor or high fat, high sugar diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Certain medications such as oral contraceptives, antidepressants, and certain drugs to treat HIV
  • Liver disease
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Hypothyroidism that has not been treated
  • Uncontrolled diabetes

Secondary dyslipidemias, which are less common, may be caused by untreated hyperthyroidism or certain cancers.

Signs and Symptoms

There is no true way of knowing whether or not you have a dyslipidemia – whether hyperlipidemia or hypolipidemia – unless you have a lipid panel performed. This involves having blood drawn at your healthcare provider’s office and having it analyzed for levels of LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. In rare cases of extremely high lipids, raised, yellowish bumps referred to as xanthomas may appear on the body.


There are a variety of treatments and other measures available to address dyslipidemias.

Hypolipidemias are not treated unless they are severe, usually in some cases where the condition is inherited. In some of these cases, the diet is modified and certain fat-soluble vitamins may be administered.

The treatment of hyperlipidemias depends on the severity of the lipid elevation, as well as which types of lipids are affected. A cholesterol-lowering diet and lifestyle modifications are often recommended, and include smoking cessation, increasing exercise and addressing any medical conditions that may be causing the high lipid levels. In some cases, medications are also used to lower your lipids and to decrease your risk of future heart disease.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The Hormone Society. Dyslipidemia.

  2. García-Giustiniani D, Stein R. Genetics of dyslipidemia. Arq Bras Cardiol. 2016;106(5):434–438. doi:10.5935/abc.20160074

  3. Davidson MH. Hypolipidemia. Merck Manual Professional Version.

  4. MedlinePlus. Eruptive xanthomatosis.

Additional Reading
  • Fauci AS, Braunwald E, Kasper DL et al (eds). Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th edition. New York, McGraw Hill.

By Jennifer Moll, PharmD
Jennifer Moll, MS, PharmD, is a pharmacist actively involved in educating patients about the importance of heart disease prevention.