A lipid panel is a test that measures fats and fatty substances used as a source of energy in the body. Lipids include cholesterol, triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Lipids are found in your blood and stored in tissues. Lipid disorders, such as high cholesterol, may lead to life-threatening illnesses, such as coronary artery disease, heart attack or stroke.
A healthcare provider may order a lipid panel and use the results to prevent, check on or diagnose a medical condition. To prepare for a lipid panel, avoid eating 10 to 12 hours before the blood test. Avoid drinking liquids other than water. The panel measures:
- Total cholesterol level: Knowing cholesterol levels is an essential part of understanding the risk for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that everyone over age 20 get a cholesterol test. Cholesterol is a form of fat that is not all bad but it can have harmful effects. A result of 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or less is considered normal, 201 to 240 mg/dL is mildly elevated and greater than 240 mg/dL is considered high.
- Triglyceride level: High triglycerides (over 150 mg/dL) also increase the risk for heart disease somewhat.
- HDL cholesterol level: This is the “good” cholesterol so the more there is, the better. An HDL result of 60 mg/dL or higher is good as it protects against heart disease. HDL between 40 and 59 mg/dL are acceptable and less than 40 mg/dL HDL is low, increasing the risk of heart disease.
- LDL cholesterol level: This is the “bad” cholesterol, which can deposit in blood vessel walls. Over years, LDL cholesterol and other substances clog arteries in the process called atherosclerosis. Arteries in the heart narrowed by atherosclerosis can then develop sudden blood clots, causing heart attacks. For LDL, lower is better. An LDL of less than 100 mg/dL is optimal. An LDL of 100 to 129 mg/dL is mildly elevated. LDL between 130 and 159 mg/dL is moderately elevated high. LDL cholesterol over 159 mg/dL is considered very high.
If lipid test results are not desirable, the healthcare provider may recommend lifestyle changes to reduce heart disease risk, including:
- Diet. One low in saturated fat and cholesterol can lower LDL cholesterol. Adding fiber and plant sterols helps as well.
- Exercise. Regular aerobic exercise can both lower bad cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.
- Medication. If diet and exercise don't lower cholesterol levels to goal, drug treatment may be needed.
For patients with normal lipid results, it is recommended to have lipid testing every five years. Those with abnormal test results or those with other risk factors such as diabetes or hyper tension will need more frequent lipid testing.