Elevated blood lipid levels

Incidence and causes

In Switzerland nearly one in three people have unhealthy blood lipid levels.

Blood lipids refers to cholesterol, fat-soluble vitamins and triglycerides. Cholesterol is a substance similar to fat. It performs numerous functions in the body, for instance as a constituent of cell walls or as a starting substance for the production of various hormones. Furthermore, the digestion-promoting bile acids are produced from cholesterol.

There are various risk factors for an unhealthy increase in blood lipids. Many people with high blood lipid levels are found to have several of these factors, such as unbalanced diet, disease, genetic predisposition, excessive alcohol consumption or certain medicinal products.  Age and gender also play an important, but unfortunately unalterable, role. Blood lipid levels increase slightly with age, but this increase happens far more slowly in women than men.

Symptoms of elevated blood lipid levels

In fact, elevated or unhealthy blood lipid levels usually do not cause any symptoms. Nevertheless, they are dangerous. Several major studies have shown that an increased cholesterol level (together with smoking, high blood pressure and raised blood sugar) is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Too much cholesterol in the blood encourages arteriosclerosis (narrowing or even blockage of an artery) and is partly responsible for people suffering a heart attack, stroke or blockage of leg arteries (“smoker’s leg”).

Detecting elevated blood lipid levels

What is known as total cholesterol together with LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol and triglycerides are measured to determine the level of lipids in the blood. Normally – in healthy children or many members of indigenous populations, for instance – the blood cholesterol level is below 4 mmol/l. However, in industrialized countries (including Switzerland) a lot of people have a higher cholesterol level. This is due to the modern lifestyle with unbalanced diet, lack of exercise, obesity, etc. High cholesterol levels are one reason why the incidence of cardiovascular disease is high in the industrialized world.

Treatment options

A doctor must decide whether elevated blood lipid levels require treatment,  by assessing not only the blood lipids, but also a patient’s general state of health and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. There are various medicines available for lowering elevated blood lipids. Which drug is used depends on which blood lipid is high and which medication is best tolerated by the patient.