Background: Use of anti-hyperlipidemic medications compromises genetic analysis because of altered lipid profiles. We propose an empirical method to adjust lipid levels for medication effects so that the adjusted lipid values substitute the unmedicated lipid values in the genetic analysis. Results: Published clinical trials were reviewed for HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors and fibric acid derivatives as mono-drug therapy. HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors showed similar effects in African Americans (AA) and non-African Americans (non-AA) for lowering total cholesterol (TC, -50.7 mg/dl), LDL cholesterol (LDL-C, -48.1 mg/dl), and triglycerides (TG, -19.7 mg/dl). Their effect on increasing HDL cholesterol (HDL-C) in AA (+0.4 mg/dl) was lower than in Non-AA (+2.3 mg/dl). The effects of fibric acid derivatives were estimated as -46.1 mg/dl for TC, -40.1 mg/dl for LDL-C, and +5.9 mg/dl for HDL-C in non-AA. The corresponding effects in AA were less extreme (-20.1 mg/dl, -11.4 mg/dl, and +3.1 mg/dl). Similar effect for TG (59.0 mg/dl) was shown in AA and non-AA. The above estimated effects were applied to a multipoint variance components linkage analysis on the lipid levels in 2,403 Whites and 2,214 AA in the HyperGEN study. The familial effects did vary depending on whether the lipids were adjusted for medication use. For example, the heritabilities increased after medication adjustment for TC and LDL-C, but did not change significantly for HDL-C and TG. Conclusion: Ethnicity-specific medication adjustments using our empirical method can be employed in epidemiological and genetic analysis of lipids. © 2007 Wu et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.