A lipid panel is a simple blood test to check your cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a soft, sticky substance found inside your body. Total cholesterol is made up of three parts: good (HDL) and bad (LDL) cholesterol, as well as triglycerides (a certain type of fat). A lipid panel is an important test because cholesterol can clog your arteries. This can lead to heart disease and stroke.
The blood test can be done in a doctor’s office, laboratory, or hospital. A nurse or lab technician inserts a needle into a vein in your arm to collect a small sample of blood. Sometimes the blood can be collected through a prick to your finger. Your blood will be collected into a tube and sent to a lab for testing. The results will be sent to your doctor and your doctor’s office will notify you of the results. The test can be done at any time of the day. However, it’s recommended that you fast (have no food or liquid to drink, except water) for 8 to 12 hours before the test. So it’s best to schedule the test for the morning.
Path to improved well being
Normal lipid panel total cholesterol is 180 to 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or less. Between 201 and 240 mg/dL is considered borderline. This means your doctor may test you more often and suggest diet and lifestyle changes. A high reading (unhealthy) is greater than 240 mg/dL. At this level, your doctor will recommend diet and lifestyles changes and may prescribe medicine to lower your cholesterol. Statins are a class of medicine most often prescribed to lower cholesterol.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommends that healthy adult men have their first lipid panel test by age 35. Healthy adult women should have their first test at age 45 if they are at risk for coronary heart disease. All adults should be tested earlier if they have certain diseases (diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure) or a family history of heart disease. The AAFP has concluded there is not enough evidence of the benefits of lipid panel testing in children and adolescents 20 years or younger. If your results were normal, you should have your cholesterol checked again in five years. If you are taking cholesterol medicine and have any of the diseases mentioned above, you might be required to have your cholesterol tested once a year.
Your lipid panel test also will provide individual results for your good and bad cholesterol and triglycerides.
- Good (HDL) cholesterol: Your body needs good cholesterol to lower your risk of heart disease. This is one test where you want high numbers. Aim for a good cholesterol of 40 to 60 mg/dL. You can increase your good cholesterol through a healthy diet and exercise.
- Bad (LDL) cholesterol: Your goal is to lower your number for your bad cholesterol. A reading of 100 mg/dL or less is considered normal. Between 100 and 129 mg/dL is near normal, 130 to 159 mg/dL is borderline high, and above 190 mg/dL is considered high. Results between 70 and 189 mg/dL are considered too high if you are between the ages of 40 and 75 and have diabetes, if you have diabetes and a high risk of heart disease, or if you have a medium to high risk of heart disease. Your doctor will prescribe a cholesterol medicine based on your results and health history.
- Triglycerides: 150 md/dL or less is considered normal, between 150 and 199 mg/dL is considered borderline high, between 200 and 499 mg/dL is considered high, and anything higher than 500 mg/dL is considered very high. Things that affect your triglycerides include liver damage, a high carbohydrate/low protein diet, underactive thyroid, a kidney disorder called Nephrotic syndrome, some medicines (hormone replacement medicines), uncontrolled diabetes, and genetics. Treatment includes a combination of prescription medicine, a healthy diet and exercise. If your results are higher than 500 mg/dL, you may have an increased risk of pancreatitis. This is a chronic, acute disease of your pancreas.
Things to consider
- You may have brief pain during the blood test as the needle is inserted. You may have a bruise at the site a day or two after the test.
- If you are dehydrated (your body doesn’t’ have enough fluids), it may be difficult to find a good vein for the test. Drink plenty of water one to two days before the test.
- People who have suffered a recent heart attack, surgery, infection, injury, or pregnancy should wait two months before having their cholesterol checked.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Are there any risks to having a lipid panel blood test?
- Can lipid panel results be affected by a cold or the flu?
- Should I take my prescription pills before having the test?
- How soon will I find out my results?
- How do I prepare for the test if I have a latex allergy?
- What if I mistakenly eat something within the 8 to 12 hours before I take the test?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.