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Hyperlipidemia, also known as dyslipidemia or high cholesterol, means you have too many lipids (fats) in your blood. Your liver creates cholesterol to help you digest food and make things like hormones. But you also eat cholesterol in foods from the meat and dairy aisles. As your liver can make as much cholesterol as you need, the cholesterol in foods you eat is extra.

Too much cholesterol (200 mg/dL to 239 mg/dL is borderline high and 240 mg/dL is high) isn’t healthy because it can create roadblocks in your artery highways where blood travels around to your body. This damages your organs that don’t receive enough blood from your arteries.

Bad cholesterol (LDL) is the most dangerous type because it causes hardened cholesterol deposits (plaque) to collect inside your blood vessels. This makes it harder for your blood to get through, which puts you at risk for a stroke or heart attack. The plaque itself can be irritated or inflamed, which can cause a clot to form around it. This can cause a stroke or heart attack depending on where the blockage is.

Think of cholesterol, a kind of fat, as traveling in lipoprotein cars through your blood.

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is known as bad cholesterol because it can clog your arteries like a large truck that broke down and is blocking a traffic lane. (Borderline high number: 130 mg/dL to 159 mg/dL. High: 160 mg/dL to 189 mg/dL.)
  • Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) is also called bad because it carries triglycerides that add to an artery plaque. This is another type of traffic blocker.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is known as good cholesterol because it brings cholesterol to your liver, which gets rid of it. This is like the tow truck that removes the broken down vehicles from the traffic lanes so vehicles can move. In this case, it’s clearing the way for your blood to get through your blood vessels. For your HDL, you don’t want to have a number lower than 40 mg/dL.

It’s important to know that providers consider other factors in addition to your cholesterol numbers when they make treatment decisions.

What is dyslipidemia vs. hyperlipidemia?

They’re mostly interchangeable terms for abnormalities in cholesterol. Your cholesterol can be “dysfunctional” (cholesterol particles that are very inflammatory or an abnormal balance between bad and good cholesterol levels) without being high.

Both a high level of cholesterol and increased inflammation in “normal” cholesterol levels put you at increased risk for heart diseases. Your providers may use both terms to refer to a problem with your cholesterol levels, and both mean that you should do something to bring the levels down.

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