Lipid Metabolism

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UT Southwestern Medical Center is widely recognized as one of the nation’s leading clinical and research centers for lipid disorders (abnormalities in the way the body processes cholesterol and fat).

Experience Treating Extreme Lipid Disorders

At UT Southwestern, we’re dedicated to providing the interventional therapies needed to slow, reverse, and prevent illnesses associated with lipid disorders (including heart attacks, strokes, and pancreatitis).

Our lipid metabolism specialists have the knowledge and experience to provide patients with the highest quality of care, including the accurate diagnosis, effective treatment, and ongoing management of issues affecting cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

As a leading clinical and research center for lipid metabolism, we have been treating patients with extreme lipid disorders for more than 20 years. This includes people who have very high cholesterol or triglyceride levels, as well as those who are experiencing serious problems with their cholesterol medications.

Health care providers across Texas refer their patients to our Lipid Metabolism Clinic and Familial Hypercholesterolemia Clinic for the expert consultation and advanced treatments needed to achieve healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Lipid Disorders We Treat

Some of the disorders linked with high lipid metabolism levels that we treat are:

  • Familial hypercholesterolemia, a condition that affects approximately one in 250 people and can cause low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol levels to reach as high as 1,000 mg/dL
  • Pancreatitis, a dangerous and painful condition in which the pancreas becomes inflamed; it can be caused by extremely elevated triglyceride levels
  • Chylomicronemia, a disease characterized by the body’s inability to break down lipids correctly
  • Severely elevated cholesterol levels (cholesterol greater than 300 mg/dL)
  • Severely elevated triglyceride levels (triglycerides greater than 1,000 mg/dL)
  • Xanthomas, or skin rashes or bumps caused by high cholesterol or triglycerides
  • Hypocholesterolemia, or very low cholesterol levels (LDL-C less than 40 mg/dL)
  • Statin intolerance
  • Dyslipidemia, or abnormal amount of lipids in the blood

Diagnosing Lipid Disorders

Typically, patients don’t experience symptoms of lipid disorders. The conditions are diagnosed during blood testing. In many cases, though, people aren’t aware of their lipid disorder until after having a heart attack or suffering from pancreatitis.

Cholesterol and Triglyceride Testing

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is produced by the liver and found in certain foods. Cholesterol is necessary for the body, helping it produce hormones and the bile that helps digest fats. Too much cholesterol, however, can cause plaque to build up in the arteries, which can narrow them, slow the blood flow, and lead to heart attack and stroke.

Triglycerides are fat molecules that are transported in the blood to be used as energy or stored as fat. High levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, and extremely elevated triglyceride levels can cause life-threatening pancreatitis.

Cholesterol levels can be checked and monitored with a simple blood test. Triglycerides are usually checked as part of that test as well.

A small sample of blood is taken from the arm and tested at a lab. For people with high triglycerides, it is best to fast before the blood test.

UT Southwestern physicians recommend having cholesterol checked every five years, beginning at age 10.

Those who might need to have it checked more often include:

  • Anyone with a family history of high cholesterol, heart attack, stroke, or pancreatitis
  • People with total cholesterol greater than 200 mg/dL
  • Men age 45+ and women age 50+
  • People whose high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good”) cholesterol is less than 40 mg/dL
  • People with other risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as diabetes

Treating Lipid Disorders

Our physicians use their combined expertise, experience, and medical resources to treat patients facing increased health risks related to cholesterol, triglycerides, and other metabolic disorders.

The goal is to put each patient on an individualized treatment plan that will help manage their cholesterol and triglyceride levels and prevent or lower their risk of heart attack and stroke. Treatment can include drug therapies, nutritional advice, and exercise recommendations.

UT Southwestern is one of only 30 to 40 centers in the U.S. that offers LDL apheresis, a nonsurgical procedure for patients with extreme elevations in cholesterol levels who have no other treatment options. Most patients who undergo LDL apheresis have a condition referred to as homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia.

LDL apheresis is similar to dialysis. We remove blood from a patient’s body, take out a large percentage of the LDL-cholesterol in the blood – typically 50% to 70% – and return the blood to the body. Because cholesterol levels tend to jump back up a week or two after the procedure, those who need apheresis have to keep getting it.

Clinical Research

UT Southwestern’s research has helped reveal promising targets for new drug therapies to treat lipid disorders. Ongoing studies at UT Southwestern have helped uncover the basis of many factors contributing to high cholesterol, high triglycerides, heart attacks, strokes, and pancreatitis.

We are also currently involved in investigating the genetic basis of familial hypercholesterolemia and familial chylomicronemia syndrome (type 1 hyperlipoproteinemia) and conducting clinical trials to investigate novel therapies for patients with these conditions.

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