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Lipid Panel

Does this test have other names?

Lipid profile, lipoprotein profile

What is this test?

This group of tests measures the amount of cholesterol and other fats in your blood.

Cholesterol and triglycerides are lipids, or fats. These fats are important for cell health, but they can be harmful when they build up in the blood. Sometimes they can lead to clogged, inflamed arteries, a condition call atherosclerosis. This may keep your heart from working normally.

This panel of tests helps predict your risk for heart disease and stroke.

A lipid panel measures these fats:

  • Total cholesterol

  • LDL ("bad") cholesterol

  • HDL ("good") cholesterol

  • Triglycerides, another type of fat that causes hardening of the arteries

Why do I need this test?

You may need this panel of tests if you have a family history of heart disease or stroke.

You may also have this test if your doctor believes you're at risk for heart disease. These are risk factors:

  • High blood pressure

  • Diabetes or prediabetes

  • Overweight or obesity

  • Smoking

  • Lack of exercise

  • Diet of unhealthy foods

  • Stress

  • High total cholesterol

If you are already being treated for heart disease, you may have this test to see whether treatment is working.

What other tests might I have along with this test?

Your doctor may also order other tests to look at how well your heart is working. These tests may include:

  • Electrocardiogram, or ECG/EKG, which tests your heart's electrical impulses to see if it is beating normally

  • Stress test, in which you may have to exercise while being monitored by EKG

  • Echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to make pictures of your heart

  • Cardiac catheterization. For this test, a doctor puts a tube into your blood vessels and injects dye. X-rays are then done to look for clogs in the vessels.

Your doctor may also order tests for high blood pressure or blood sugar, or glucose.

What do my test results mean?

Many things may affect your lab test results. These include the method each lab uses to do the test. Even if your test results are different from the normal value, you may not have a problem. To learn what the results mean for you, talk with your health care provider.

Results are given in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Here are the ranges for total cholesterol in adults:

  • Normal: Less than 200 mg/dL

  • Borderline high: 200 to 239 mg/dL

  • High: At or above 240 mg/dL

These are the adult ranges for LDL cholesterol:

  • Optimal: Less than 100 mg/dL (this is the goal for people with diabetes or heart disease)

  • Near optimal: 100 to 129 mg/dL

  • Borderline high: 130 to 159 mg/dL

  • High: 160 to 189 mg/dL

  • Very high: 190 mg/dL and higher

The above numbers are general guidelines, because actual goals depend on the number of risk factors you have for heart disease.

Your HDL cholesterol levels should be above 40 mg/dL. This type of fat is actually good for you because it lowers your risk of heart disease. The higher the number, the lower your risk. Sixty mg/dL or above is considered the level to protect you against heart disease.

  • High levels of triglycerides are linked with a higher heart disease risk. Here are the adult ranges:

  • Normal: Less than 150 mg/dL

  • Borderline high: 150 to 199 mg/dL

  • High: 200 to 499 mg/dL

  • Very high: Above 500 mg/dL

Depending on your test results, your doctor will decide whether you need lifestyle changes or medications to lower your cholesterol.

Your results and targets will vary according to your age and health. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, you're at higher risk of having heart disease. You may have to take drugs to get your cholesterol and triglyceride levels even lower.

How is this test done?

The test requires a blood sample, which is drawn through a needle from a vein in your arm.

Does this test pose any risks?

Taking a blood sample with a needle carries risks that include bleeding, infection, bruising, or feeling dizzy. When the needle pricks your arm, you may feel a slight stinging sensation or pain. Afterward, the site may be slightly sore.

What might affect my test results?

Time of year can affect your results by 4 to 11 percent. Being sick or under stress, and taking certain medications can also affect your results.

What you eat, how often you exercise, and whether you smoke can also affect your lipid profile.

How do I prepare for the test?

You may need to not eat or drink anything but water for 12 to 14 hours before this test. In addition, be sure your doctor knows about all medicines, herbs, vitamins, and supplements you are taking. This includes medicines that don't need a prescription and any illicit drugs you may use.