Lipid disorders are typically the conditions related to abnormal levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. Lipids in the blood are fats and fatty acids that we need to survive. When the numbers are unusually high, that state will often be referred to as a lipid disorder. There are two basic types of lipid disorders. Hypercholesterolemia is present when the level of cholesterol in the blood is too high, and hypertriglyceridemia is present when the level of triglycerides is too high. Both conditions can be present at the same time.
Cholesterol is a waxy compound produced by the body that exists in both blood and body tissues. It is also found in many foods, especially animal products. Too much cholesterol in the blood can cause problems by building up along artery walls and leading to diminished blood flow that can cause heart disease. High cholesterol numbers are not always a sign of a fatty acid disorder, however.
There are two types of cholesterol found in the blood: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL molecules can build up and clog arteries if they are present in high numbers. HDL carries LDL from the blood to the liver, which helps expel it from the body. A high level of HDL is usually desirable because it helps remove the LDL that can cause problems. If the overall cholesterol number is high but the "good" HDL number is high, the lipid syndrome is typically considered less serious, and the heart attack risk is generally lower.
Triglycerides are fatty acids in the bloodstream. These can be created from fats eaten in food or by the body as it processes carbohydrates, such as sugar or starch. The body should store excess triglycerides in fat cells, but when lipid disorders are present, triglycerides often circulate in high levels in the blood. Both high cholesterol and high triglycerides are considered major risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and such conditions as diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Some people have slightly lower or higher blood lipid levels than others because their bodies simply produce more cholesterol naturally. The levels of lipids in the blood are partly determined by the body and partly determined by what kind of food is eaten. The typical method of controlling blood lipid levels is through a diet low in cholesterol and fat. When diet is not enough to bring lipid numbers to a normal level, doctors will often prescribe special medication to help.
It is important to distinguish between lipid disorders and a lipid storage disease. This type of disease, like an enzyme disorder, causes cholesterol and other lipids such as steroids to build up in the body's systems and organs where they cause damage. Some lipid storage diseases can cause serious birth defects, devastating brain damage, and a shortened life span. Lipid disorders such as high cholesterol or triglycerides are very different from these genetic conditions and can usually be controlled through diet, exercise, and medication.