Lipid Panel

A lipid panel is a group of tests that measures cholesterol and other fats in your blood. These results can then be used to help assess your risk of heart disease or stroke. Your doctor may recommend a lipid panel if you have a family history of heart disease or stroke - or if you have any conditions that may increase your risk of heart diseases, such as high blood pressure, obesity, high total cholesterol, and more.

A lipid panel test is performed by taking a sample of blood via a finger prick. This blood is sent to a lab to measure lipid levels in the blood.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends that adult men should receive a lipid panel test every 1-2 years between the ages of 45-65. Women should be tested every 1-2 years between the ages of 55-65. Adults over the age of 65 should receive a lipid panel test every year.

Children usually receive a lipid panel test once between the ages of 9-11 and every five years after that.

More frequent testing may be recommended if you are at risk of coronary artery disease.

Common risk factors include:

  • Family history of heart disease or high cholesterol
  • Being overweight/ obese
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Lack of physical activity/ Cardiovascular conditions
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Unhealthy diet
  • History of high cholesterol

If you experience one or more of the risk factors listed above, talk to your health care provider about how often you should undergo lipid testing. The test is quick and relatively painless and plays a crucial role in detecting heart and arterial diseases.

Lipids are fat molecules in the blood. They act as energy stores and chemical messengers in the body. A lipid panel measures levels of 3 different lipids, as well as your total cholesterol levels:

- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: Commonly known as “bad cholesterol”, LDL will build up and clog the arteries. Excess levels of LDL cause plaque in blood vessels, which can obstruct and slow blood flow. If this plaque build-up occurs in the blood vessels around the heart, it can lead to coronary artery disease.

- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: Known as “good cholesterol”, HDL carries cholesterol through the body and deposits it back into the liver, which removes these fatty molecules from the body.

- Triglycerides: When you eat, your body converts any unneeded calories into triglycerides - a molecule that is stored in fat cells. In between meals, these molecules are converted into energy. Eating more calories than you burn can result in a build-up of triglycerides, which can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

Lipid tests may be performed at your primary care provider’s office. The procedure only takes a few minutes, and it is safe to go about your daily activities after you are finished.

Before your appointment, you may be asked to fast for 9-12 hours. Usually, this means no food or water for the ordered period of time. Because of this, it is generally recommended that you undergo a lipid panel test right away in the morning. After your test, you will be cleared to eat and drink.

During the test, blood will be drawn via a needle inserted into your arm. An elastic band will be wrapped around your upper arm to encourage blood flow. A lipid panel requires a small amount of blood, which will be deposited into a vial or tube for testing. After this, the needle will be removed and the puncture site will be cleaned and bandaged.

Some individuals may experience mild dizziness or lightheadedness after getting their blood drawn. Once the test is over, you can eat and drink normally. It is recommended that you bring a snack and some water with you if you think you may become lightheaded. Eating and hydrating can help reduce these sensations.

Your provider will discuss the results of your lipid panel with you but for reference, see below:

Total Cholesterol - lower is better:

  • Below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is considered healthy.
  • 200 to 239 mg/dL is borderline high.
  • 240 mg/dL is high.

HDL (Good Cholesterol) - higher is better:

  • 60 mg/dL or higher is best -- High HDL levels protect against heart disease.
  • 40 to 59 mg/dL is a healthy level of HDL.
  • Less than 40 mg/dL is low, which can increase risk of heart disease.

LDL ("bad cholesterol") - lower is better:

  • Less than 100 mg/dL is ideal, especially for individuals who have coronary heart disease.
  • 100 to 129 mg/dL is optimal for individuals at risk of coronary artery disease.
  • 130 to 159 mg/dL is OK for individuals with little risk of coronary artery disease
  • 160 to 189 mg/dL is high.
  • 190 mg/dL or more is very high

Triglycerides - lower is better:

  • 150 mg/dL or less is desirable.
  • 151 to 200 mg/dL is borderline high
  • 200 to 499 mg/dl is high, which increases your risk of heart disease
  • Over 500 mg/dl is very high.

Several self-care methods to lower your cholesterol are detailed below. During your appointment, talk to your provider about medication and treatment options for high cholesterol.

Lifestyle changes and self-care methods include:

- A healthy diet: Limit your consumption of processed foods, animal fats, and salt. Good fats are okay, but eat them in moderation. Veggies are your friend, as well as fruits and whole grains.

- Exercise: Regular physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle and may help you prevent and manage high cholesterol.

- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

- Quit smoking.

- Minimize alcohol consumption.

- Manage stress: Meditate, schedule therapy, take time off, spend time with family and loved ones - whatever helps reduce stress and improves your quality of life.

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