Cholesterol Deposits in the Eyes: Symptoms and Treatment
Cholesterol may be deposited around the eyes, forming fatty, yellowish lumps. While these deposits are usually harmless, they may sometimes indicate a serious underlying condition.
Natural fats, including cholesterol, can form growths around the eyelids. One of these growths is called xanthelasma.
In some cases, xanthelasma has no cause. Sometimes, however, it can indicate high cholesterol, low thyroid function, or liver problems.
In this article, we will look at the symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment of cholesterol deposits in the eye.
Cholesterol deposits are soft, flat, yellowish masses. They appear on the upper and lower eyelids, near the inner corners of the eyes, and often develop symmetrically in both eyes.
These lesions may remain the same size, or grow very slowly over time. Occasionally, they may come together and form a larger piece.
Xanthelasma are usually painless. They rarely affect vision or eyelid movement, but can cause eyelid ptosis.
Cholesterol deposits can occur at any age, but are more likely to form during a person’s lifetime. They are more common in women than in men.
The medical community does not know the exact cause of these deposits. However, having Xanthelasm causes abnormal levels of lipids in the blood, known as dyslipidemia.
In this case, the diagnosis is dyslipidemia.
- High low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol – the “bad” cholesterol.
- Low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) – “good” cholesterol.
- High total cholesterol
- High levels of triglycerides.
Dyslipidemia increases the risk of cholesterol buildup in the artery walls. This buildup can restrict blood flow to other parts of the body, such as the heart and brain. It also increases the risk of angina, heart attack, stroke and peripheral artery disease.
Dyslipidemia is associated with a number of genetic disorders, including
- Familial hypercholesterolemia
- Familial hypertriglyceridemia
- Lipoprotein lipase deficiency
People with these conditions may have abnormally high blood lipid levels despite their good health. Therefore, these conditions are known as the primary causes of dyslipidemia.
Secondary causes include the following lifestyle factors
- greasy diet
- lack of exercise
- Excessive alcohol consumption
Other risk factors for dyslipidemia include the following
- diabetes mellitus
- chronic kidney disease
- Liver disease
- Family history of stroke or heart disease
- Certain medications, including beta-blockers, oral contraceptives, retinoids, and anabolic steroids
Some studies have found that cholesterol deposits in the eyelids can increase the risk of stroke and heart disease, even in people with normal blood lipid levels.
People with cholesterol deposits should see their doctor to have their blood lipid levels checked.
Xanthelasma can usually be easily diagnosed by visual examination. If the doctor is unable to make a determination, a scraping or sample can be sent to a lab for analysis.
The doctor will also test for diabetes and liver function, and in some cases may recommend a formal cardiovascular risk assessment.
Cholesterol deposits around the eyes can be surgically removed. Often, the growths are painless and people request removal more for cosmetic reasons.
The method of removal depends on the size, location and characteristics of the growth. Some surgical options include the following
- Excisional surgery
- Argon and carbon dioxide laser ablation
- Chemical cautery
- Dry electrodes
Swelling and bruising around the eyelid may occur for several weeks after surgery. The risks of the procedure include scarring and changes in skin color.
Cholesterol deposits can easily recur after removal, especially in people with high cholesterol.
Normalization of blood lipid levels has little effect on existing deposits. However, treatment of dyslipidemia is essential because it can reduce the risk of heart disease. Treatment can also help prevent the development of other deposits.
Doctors usually treat dyslipidemia by recommending lifestyle and dietary changes. Your doctor or dietitian will develop a plan for you that works for you.
Possible recommendations include:
Being overweight or obese can raise LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. A healthy approach to weight loss can help overweight people with dyslipidemia.
People with dyslipidemia need a balanced diet that is low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Your doctor or dietitian may recommend that you eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods are low in fat and cholesterol-free.
Some foods to avoid include
- Whole milk
- Cream cheese
- fatty meats
- Rice cakes and pastries
- coconut milk
Instead, make sure you consume healthy fats. They can be found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, vegetable oils and spreads.
Foods that contain a lot of soluble fiber can also help lower cholesterol. These include the following
- Oats and barley
- Brown rice
- Citrus fruits
Regular exercise is also essential in the treatment of dyslipidemia, which helps raise HDL cholesterol levels and lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Activities such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming and running can help improve cardiovascular health and maintain a healthy weight.
Reduce alcohol intake
Excessive alcohol consumption can increase cholesterol and triglycerides. The American Dietary Guidelines recommend no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men.
A single alcoholic beverage is defined as
- Twelve fluid ounces (1 oz.) of regular beer with 5% alcohol content.
- Five fluid ounces of wine with 12% alcohol content.
- 5 fluid ounces of distilled spirits (80 degrees distilled, 40% alcohol by volume).
Smoking tobacco products increases LDL cholesterol and interferes with the positive effects of HDL cholesterol. If you have dyslipidemia and smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting.
Take lipid-lowering medications
Your doctor may also prescribe lipid-lowering medications such as statins, ezetimibe and niacin.
People can work to lower their triglyceride levels by changing their diet, achieving a moderate weight, and exercising regularly.
You might consider avoiding refined carbohydrates, added sugars and saturated fats. Replacing them with low-carb fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fatty fish may help lower your triglyceride levels and reduce the risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease.
It is important for a doctor to determine if this approach will do enough or if the person also needs medication. A person should contact their doctor to find out which method is best for them.
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