Conditions InDepth: Lipid Disorders

Lipid disorders are abnormalities in the amount of fatty substances, called lipids, in the blood. Cholesterol and triglycerides are two types of lipids measured. These lipids are involved in many body processes.

High cholesterol levels are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), and stroke. A total cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL* (5.2 mmol/L) is desirable, 200-239 mg/dL (5.2-6.1 mmol/L) is borderline high, and over 239 mg/dL (6.1 mmol/L) is high.

*mg/dL = milligrams per deciliter blood (mmol/L = millimoles per liter blood)

Plaque Due to Build-up of Lipids in an Artery

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There are two main types of cholesterol:

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol—This is often referred to as the "good" cholesterol, which helps protect against heart disease. It is believed to carry cholesterol to the liver and away from arteries. Levels of 60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or higher are beneficial in lowering heart-disease risk.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—This is often referred to as the "bad" cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease. High levels allow plaque to build up in your arteries. Levels less than 100 mg/dL (2.6 mmol/L) are considered optimal.

Triglycerides also contribute to heart disease in some people. Levels above 199 mg/dL (2.2 mmol/L) are considered high and may require treatment.

Factors such as heredity, certain drugs and diets high in saturated fat, can lead to unhealthy elevations in lipid levels. Large amounts of carbohydrates or alcohol may also lead to high lipid levels.

According to the American Heart Association, 105 million Americans have a total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL (5.2 mmol/L) or higher. Certain diseases such as diabetes mellitus, hypothyroidism, or the nephotic syndrome can be associated with elevated lipid levels.

What are the risk factors for lipid disorders?
What are the symptoms of lipid disorders?
How are lipid disorders diagnosed?
What are the treatments for lipid disorders?
Are there screening tests for lipid disorders?
How can I reduce my risk of lipid disorders?
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
What is it like to live with lipid disorders?
Where can I get more information about lipid disorders?


American Heart Association website. Available at:

National Center for Health Statistics website. Available at:

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:

Pejic RA, Lee DT. Hypertriglyceridemia. JABFM. 2006;19:310-316.

Last reviewed May 2007 by Mark A. Best, MD, MPH, MBA

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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