Conditions InDepth: Lipid Disorders

Lipids are a type of fat in the body. They are needed to help the body work as it should. Abnormal levels of lipids can cause problems inside the blood vessels. Lipids can stick to blood vessel walls and create a buildup, called plaque. The plaque causes damage to the walls and makes them stiff. This is a condition known as atherosclerosis. The plaque and damaged blood vessel makes it harder for blood to flow through. Poor blood flow or a blockage can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Lipid disorders are often caused by a blend of factors such as:

  • Problems in the genes
  • Daily habits such as eating unhealthy foods, getting too little exercise, smoking, or drinking too much alcohol
  • Other health problems such as diabetes or kidney disease
  • Certain medicines such as steroids or those used to treat mental health problems

Plaque Due to Build-up of Lipids in an Artery

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Types of Lipids


Cholesterol is a waxy product made by the liver. It is needed to build cells and make hormones. The body can make all the cholesterol it needs. Certain fats in foods will also make the liver create more cholesterol. These fats are found in animal based foods such as dairy products, meat, and fish. This can raise cholesterol too much in some people.

There are 2 main types of cholesterol:

  • Good (HDL)—May carry bad cholesterol out of blood vessels. Decreases the risk of heart disease.
  • Bad (LDL)—Can stick to blood vessel walls. Adds to plaque build up. Increases the risk of heart disease.


Triglycerides are the most common type of fat. They help the body store extra calories that we eat. The body uses these fats when more energy is needed. Triglycerides move around the body in the blood. High levels can add to plaque buildup in the blood vessels. It increases the risk of heart disease.

The liver makes triglycerides. Levels can be increased with:

  • Diets high in carbohydrates and processed foods
  • Low activity levels
  • Health problems such as diabetes, thyroid problems, genetic changes, or excess weight


Cholesterol: An introduction. American Heart Association website. Available at: Accessed May 28, 2019.
Cholesterol: The good and the bad. American Heart Association website. Available at: Accessed May 28, 2019.
Grundy SM, Stone NJ, Bailey AL, et al. 2018 AHA/ACC/AACVPR/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/ADA/AGS/APhA/ASPC/NLA/PCNA guideline on the management of blood cholesterol. Circulation. 2018;Nov 10 [Epub ahead of print]. Available at:
Hypercholesterolemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated April 16, 2019. Accessed May 28, 2019.
Hypertriglyceridemia. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated November 28, 2018. Accessed May 28, 2019.
Last reviewed March 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 5/28/2019