A lipid panel is a simple blood test to check your cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is 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 test is important 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. Your doctor may ask that you get the test performed while you are fasting.
There are also other similar tests your doctor may perform to better understand your cholesterol.
Path to improved health
Your doctor will use the results of your lipid panel to calculate an ASCVD (atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease) risk score. This score reveals if you are a high or low risk for heart disease. If your risk score is high, your doctor will recommend diet and lifestyle changes. They 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) supports the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) clinical preventive service recommendations for lipid screening. The USPSTF recommends that healthy men have their first lipid panel test at age 35 and women at 45. Adults may be tested earlier if they have certain diseases (diabetes, heart disease) or if they smoke. According to the USPSTF, there is not enough evidence of the benefits of lipid panel testing in adults 21 to 39 years old.
Your lipid panel test 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. Between 130 to 159 mg/dL is borderline high. 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, a medium-to-high risk of heart disease or both conditions. Your doctor will prescribe a cholesterol medicine based on your results and health history.
- Triglycerides: Between 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. 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 or 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.
- Depending on your cholesterol levels and other chronic diseases, your doctor may test you more frequently than a person who is otherwise healthy.
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?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Get Cholesterol Test
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: What is Blood Cholesterol?
National Institutes of Health, MedlinePlus: Cholesterol testing and results