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Createdon: 14 Jul 2017
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Author: Khoa Tran
Published Jul 14, 2017
Updated Apr 07, 2023

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High Cholesterol (Hyperlipidemia)

Etymology and Pronunciation

Hyperlipidemia (hyper-lip-it-DEE-me-uh)
Hyper - Greek for above
Lip(o) - Greek for fat
Emia - Greek for blood


In ancient Greece, physical fitness was highly valued and obesity was generally viewed as a sign of laziness or gluttony. Greek physician Hippocrates, who lived in the 5th century BCE, recommended a healthy diet and exercise to prevent and treat obesity. He advised his patients to eat a moderate and balanced diet, avoid excess sugar and alcohol, and engage in regular physical activity.

In the Middle Ages, obesity was often associated with wealth and status, as the ability to afford an abundance of food was seen as a sign of prosperity. However, some medical texts from this period suggest that excessive weight gain was also seen as a health concern. For example, the 13th-century physician Arnold of Villanova recommended a diet that was low in fat, sugar, and meat, and high in fruits, vegetables, and grains, in order to promote health and prevent obesity.

The concept of cholesterol as a substance in the blood was first introduced in the mid-19th century by a French chemist named Eugène Chevreul. In the early 20th century, scientists began to identify different types of lipids, including cholesterol, and to study their roles in the body.

The development of techniques such as ultracentrifugation and electrophoresis allowed scientists to isolate and study different types of lipoprotein particles in the blood, including LDL and HDL.

In the 1950s, the famous Framingham Heart Study was launched in the United States. This study followed thousands of participants over several decades and was instrumental in demonstrating the link between high cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart disease. Researchers used radioisotopes to label and track lipoproteins in the bloodstream. This allowed them to study the metabolism of LDL and HDL particles and to better understand their roles in the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease.

In the 1970s, the discovery of the LDL and HDL cholesterol particles provided a more nuanced understanding of cholesterol metabolism. The development of monoclonal antibody technology allowed researchers to develop specific antibodies that could recognize and bind to LDL and HDL particles. This allowed for more precise measurements of LDL and HDL cholesterol levels in the blood, as well as the development of diagnostic tests for evaluating cardiovascular risk. LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol because it can build up in the walls of arteries and contribute to the formation of plaques that can lead to heart attacks and strokes. HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, is often referred to as "good" cholesterol because it can help to remove excess cholesterol from the bloodstream.

The development of cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins, in the 1980s and 1990s revolutionized the treatment of high cholesterol. These drugs work by blocking an enzyme involved in cholesterol synthesis, leading to lower LDL cholesterol levels in the blood.

Modern Understanding

High cholesterol - also called Hyperlipidemia - is a condition in which there is an excessive amount of cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in the fats (lipids) in the blood. It plays a vital role in the body, but too much of it can be harmful.

High cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It can lead to the build-up of fatty deposits (plaques) in the arteries, which narrows the arteries and restricts blood flow. This can increase the risk of blood clots, heart attack, and stroke.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is naturally produced in the liver and is essential for the normal functioning of the body. It is important for the formation of cell membranes, the production of hormones, and the digestion of fats. However, when the level of cholesterol in the blood becomes too high, it can build up in the walls of the arteries, leading to the formation of plaques. Over time, these plaques can narrow the arteries, reducing blood flow and increasing the risk of heart disease.

Hyperlipidemia is often asymptomatic, meaning that a person may not experience any symptoms until they develop complications, such as a heart attack or stroke. Therefore, it is important to have regular blood tests to monitor cholesterol levels and to take steps to prevent or manage high cholesterol.

There are two main types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is often referred to as "bad" cholesterol because it can contribute to the formation of plaques in the arteries. HDL, on the other hand, is often referred to as "good" cholesterol because it helps to remove cholesterol from the blood and prevent the formation of plaques.

Risk factors for hyperlipidemia include age, genetics, diet, physical inactivity, smoking, and certain medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, as well as low levels of HDL cholesterol, can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

Lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity, eating a healthy diet, and quitting smoking, can help to prevent and manage high cholesterol. In some cases, medication may be necessary to lower cholesterol levels, especially if lifestyle changes alone are not effective.


High cholesterol levels can be caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors. The liver produces cholesterol, which is then transported through the bloodstream to other parts of the body. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also known as "bad" cholesterol, can lead to the buildup of plaque in the arteries, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Some of the causes of high cholesterol include:

1. Poor diet: Consuming a diet that is high in saturated and trans fats, processed foods, and cholesterol can increase LDL cholesterol levels.
2. Lack of physical activity: A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to higher levels of LDL cholesterol.
3. Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase LDL cholesterol levels, as well as increase the risk of other health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
4. Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol levels, which can be inherited from their parents.
5. Age and gender: As people age, their cholesterol levels tend to increase. Women typically have lower LDL cholesterol levels than men, but after menopause, their levels can increase.
6. Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and kidney disease can affect cholesterol levels.
7. Medications: Some medications such as beta-blockers, thiazide diuretics, and oral contraceptives can increase LDL cholesterol levels.
8. Smoking: Smoking can lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, also known as "good" cholesterol, and increase LDL cholesterol levels.


There are several ways to treat and prevent high cholesterol:

1. Lifestyle changes: The first line of defense against high cholesterol is making lifestyle changes. This includes eating a healthy diet that is low in saturated and trans fats, increasing physical activity, losing weight if necessary, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake. These changes can help reduce cholesterol levels and improve overall health.
2. Medications: In some cases, lifestyle changes may not be enough to lower cholesterol levels. In these situations, medications may be prescribed to help lower cholesterol. These medications include statins, bile acid sequestrants, niacin, and fibrates. These drugs work by either reducing the amount of cholesterol the liver produces or by increasing the amount of cholesterol eliminated from the body.
3. Supplements: Certain supplements, such as fish oil, plant sterols, and psyllium, may also be effective in reducing cholesterol levels. However, it's important to talk to a healthcare professional before starting any supplement regimen, as some supplements can interact with medications or have side effects.
4. Regular check-ups: Regular check-ups with a healthcare professional are important for monitoring cholesterol levels and identifying any potential health problems. It's recommended that adults get their cholesterol levels checked at least once every five years, or more frequently if there is a history of high cholesterol or heart disease in the family.

Preventing high cholesterol involves making lifestyle changes and adopting healthy habits. Some tips to prevent high cholesterol include:

1. Eating a healthy diet: A diet that is low in saturated and trans fats, and high in fiber, can help lower cholesterol levels. Foods that are high in cholesterol, such as fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and fried foods, should be limited.
2. Exercising regularly: Physical activity can help increase HDL cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol) and reduce LDL cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol). Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.
3. Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can increase cholesterol levels. Losing weight can help lower cholesterol and improve overall health.
4. Quitting smoking: Smoking can reduce HDL cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease. Quitting smoking can help improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of other health problems.
5. Limiting alcohol intake: Drinking too much alcohol can increase cholesterol levels and contribute to other health problems. It's recommended that women limit alcohol to one drink per day and men limit alcohol to two drinks per day.

In summary, high cholesterol is a common health problem that can lead to serious health complications if left untreated. Treatment and prevention of high cholesterol involve making lifestyle changes, taking medications if necessary, and regular monitoring with a healthcare professional. Adopting healthy habits and making small changes to daily routines can help reduce cholesterol levels and improve overall health.