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Whenever the body has too much cholesterol in the bloodstream, it means that you’re suffering from hyperlipidemia, which is one of the primary causes of heart disease.

Secondary hyperlipidemia is characterized by excessive cholesterol levels resulting from non-genetic factors, typically as a poor diet. To better understand the implications and outcome of having secondary hyperlipidemia, it’s important to get a grasp of what hyperlipidemia is and what causes it.

What is hyperlipidemia?

Whenever the body has too much cholesterol in the bloodstream, it means that you’re suffering from hyperlipidemia, which is one of the primary causes of heart disease. Hyperlipidemia can be caused by a number of different factors, from gene mutation inherited through generations, to an unbalanced diet filled with fatty foods.

There are two major types of hyperlipidemia — primary and secondary.

  • Primary hyperlipidemia is caused by genetic factors. This happens when a person inherits familial hypercholesterolemia from one or both parents, meaning that by default, the body is unable to process cholesterol, having basic values that are higher than the average. There is nothing that can be done to familial hypercholesterolemia, and people who have it need to carefully monitor their cholesterol level at all times.
  • Secondary hyperlipidemia is caused by every other factor. This includes everything from having an improper diet and consuming too much alcohol, to not getting enough exercise or using certain meds which can modify cholesterol and hormones, but also kidney disease.

Secondary hyperlipidemia and diet

Dietary causes that lead to secondary hyperlipidemia are more than just based on what you eat. If you don’t have a habit of doing any physical exercise and lead a sedentary lifestyle, this can also contribute to raised cholesterol levels.

People who consume large quantities of alcohol (meaning more than a single glass per day) or those who smoke are also more likely to end up having cholesterol-related problems. Diets that are very rich in processed foods, saturated fat, and low on fiber, will most likely lead to high cholesterol problems.

Secondary hyperlipidemia and medication

Whenever you take a new medication, carefully read the label all the way through. Some meds are known for raising cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and this is something you particularly want to avoid if you already have cholesterol-related problems. When in doubt, talk to your doctor about some potential alternatives.

Depending on the type of medication you take, the amount of fat in your blood may raise just slightly, while others bring more noticeable changes. Some types of medications that are known to raise cholesterol and triglyceride levels are:

  • Anticonvulsants
  • Antidepressants
  • Beta blockers
  • Oral estrogen
  • Immunosuppressants
  • Diuretics
  • Corticosteroids.

Secondary hyperlipidemia and type 2 diabetes

People that have type 2 diabetes are more likely to have problems with triglycerides and cholesterol as well. Diabetes is a medical condition caused by elevated sugar levels in the blood. This happens because the body doesn’t have enough insulin (which is the hormone that eliminates sugar from the blood, transporting it to cells which convert it into energy).

When a person has elevated sugar levels in the blood, this can interfere with how the body manages fats. This, in turn, leads to several cholesterol-related problems, such as high levels of bad cholesterol, low levels of good cholesterol, and too many triglycerides.

Secondary hyperlipidemia and pregnancy

Pregnant women have more fat in their blood compared to those who aren’t expecting. This is a normal bodily reaction, because you need more fat to feed both yourself and your future baby. A lot of doctors avoid performing any cholesterol tests on pregnant women, because the results are not relevant, since the average levels are higher than normal anyway.

Women who breastfeed will also have more fat in their bloodstream, because the baby requires these nutrients for a healthy growth. Cholesterol levels will remain elevated until the mother is done breastfeeding. Mothers who do not breastfeed at all can expect their cholesterol levels to return to normal about three to four months after the baby is born.

Secondary hyperlipidemia and hypothyroidism

The human neck is home to the thyroid gland, which secretes a hormone called “thyroxine”. This hormone helps our body function at a normal rate, and when there isn’t enough of it, the bodily functions work slower than usual. The medical term to describe this problem is “underactive thyroid”, or hypothyroidism.

When a person suffers from hypothyroidism, the rate at which the body processes cholesterol is also slowed down. Hypothyroidism has a number of symptoms, such as palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, but also difficulty in concentrating and speaking.

Hypothyroidism is very easy to diagnose and treat, and your cholesterol levels should be back to normal once you’re cured. The condition is most common in women from 40 to 50 years of age, and could potentially raise triglyceride levels, as well as cholesterol.

Secondary hyperlipidemia and menopause

Menopause comes with a lot of different changes in the woman’s body, from no more menstrual cycles to the cease in estrogen production. A lot of women at menopause claim that they are more susceptible to gain weight, meaning that their cholesterol levels are also at risk or rising.

Along with cholesterol changes, women at menopause can also experience higher blood pressure.

But aside from the issue of menopause, it’s important to note that age brings a lot of bodily changes for both men and women alike. As the body gets older, the liver becomes less efficient in its cholesterol-related function, so it’s very easy for cholesterol to build up.

Because of that, even elders are encouraged not to cave-in in front of a lazy lifestyle, and take at least daily walks or do whatever physical exercise they are comfortable in doing.


There are also some other rare underlying conditions which can lead to secondary hyperlipidemia, such as chronic kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome (both of which are kidney-related conditions), liver problems, and gout. The important thing is that, unlike primary hyperlipidemia, secondary hyperlipidemia can easily be treated if the required lifestyle changes are made and, depending on the case, if the underlying medical condition is treated.

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