What is a lipid panel?
A lipid panel is a blood test that measures the amount of certain fat molecules called lipids in your blood. In most cases, the panel includes four different cholesterol measurements and a measurement of your triglycerides.
Having too many lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) in your blood can lead to buildup in your blood vessels and arteries, which can cause damage and increase your risk of cardiovascular problems. Because of this, healthcare providers use lipid panels for both children and adults to evaluate the risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart disease, heart attack (myocardial infarction) and stroke.
Other common names for a lipid panel include:
- Lipid profile.
- Lipid test.
- Cholesterol panel.
- Coronary risk panel.
- Fasting lipid panel or non-fasting lipid panel.
What are the five tests in a lipid panel?
A lipid panel measures five different types of lipids from a blood sample, including:
- Total cholesterol: This is your overall cholesterol level — the combination of LDL-C, VLDL-C and HDL-C.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: This is the type of cholesterol that’s known as “bad cholesterol.” It can collect in your blood vessels and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) cholesterol: This is a type of cholesterol that’s usually present in very low amounts when the blood sample is a fasting samples since it’s mostly comes from food you’ve recently eaten. An increase in this type of cholesterol in a fasting sample may be a sign of abnormal lipid metabolism.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: This is the type of cholesterol that’s known as “good cholesterol.” It helps decrease the buildup of LDL in your blood vessels.
- Triglycerides: This is a type of fat from the food we eat. Excess amounts of triglycerides in your blood are associated with cardiovascular disease and pancreatic inflammation.
While these are the main measurements in a standard lipid panel, some versions of the test may include other measurements.
What is a lipid panel used for?
Healthcare providers use lipid panels to help assess someone’s cardiovascular health by analyzing cholesterol in their blood and to help diagnose other health conditions.
Reasons a provider may order a lipid panel include:
- As a routine test to determine if your cholesterol level is normal or falls into a borderline-, intermediate- or high-risk category.
- To monitor your cholesterol level if you had abnormal results on a previous test or if you have other risk factors for heart disease.
- To monitor your body’s response to treatment, such as cholesterol medications or lifestyle changes.
- To help diagnose other medical conditions, such as liver disease.
Why do I need a lipid panel blood test?
There are several reasons why you may need a lipid panel blood test. Healthcare providers use lipid panels often for screen and monitoring purposes.
If you have one or more risk factors for cardiovascular disease, your provider may suggest frequent screening through the use of a lipid panel to try to catch elevated cholesterol levels before you have symptoms. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include:
- Being over age 45 if you’re a man or you were assigned male at birth and over 50 if you’re a women or you were assigned female at birth.
- Having a high cholesterol result on a previous test.
- Smoking cigarettes.
- Having obesity.
- Not getting enough physical activity.
- Having high blood pressure (hypertension).
- Having diabetes or prediabetes.
- Having a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, who developed heart disease at an early age (under 55 in males and under 65 in females).
Children can also have high cholesterol, so your child may need a lipid panel blood test. Cholesterol levels in children are linked to three factors: heredity, diet and obesity. In most cases, kids with high cholesterol have a parent who also has elevated cholesterol.
While providers mostly use lipid panels for screening or monitoring cholesterol levels, providers sometimes use them as part of the diagnostic process for certain health conditions that can affect your lipid levels, including:
If you’re experiencing symptoms of any of these conditions, your provider may have you undergo a lipid panel blood test.
Who performs a lipid panel blood test?
A healthcare provider called a phlebotomist usually performs blood draws, including those for a lipid panel, but any healthcare provider who is trained in drawing blood can perform this task. A provider then sends the samples to a lab where a medical laboratory scientist prepares the samples and performs the tests on machines known as analyzers.
Do I need to fast for a lipid panel?
In most cases, you need to fast for 10 to12 hours before your lipid panel blood test. Fasting means not eating or drinking anything except water. In some cases, getting a lipid panel test without fasting is possible.
In any case, it’s important to ask your healthcare provider in advance about whether you need to fast before the test. Always follow the instructions that your provider gives you. If your provider has instructed you to fast and you accidentally break the fast (eat), please let your provider know because the test is not as useful without fasting.
What should I expect during my lipid panel blood test?
You can expect to experience the following during a blood test, or blood draw:
- You’ll sit in a chair, and a healthcare provider will check your arms for an easily accessible vein. This is usually in the inner part of your arm on the other side of your elbow.
- Once they’ve located a vein, they’ll clean and disinfect the area.
- They’ll then insert a small needle into your vein to take a blood sample. This may feel like a small pinch.
- After they insert the needle, a small amount of blood will collect in a test tube.
- Once they have enough blood to test, they’ll remove the needle and hold a cotton ball or gauze on the site to stop the bleeding.
- They’ll place a bandage over the site, and you’ll be finished.
The entire procedure usually takes less than five minutes.
What should I expect after my lipid panel blood test?
After a healthcare provider has collected your blood sample, they’ll send it to a laboratory for testing. Once the test results are back, your healthcare provider will share the results with you.
What are the risks of a lipid panel blood test?
Blood tests are a very common and essential part of medical testing and screening. There’s very little risk to having blood tests. You may have slight tenderness or a bruise at the site of the blood draw, but this usually resolves quickly.
When can I expect my lipid panel results?
In most cases, you should have your lipid panel results back within 1 to 2 business days, though it could take longer.
Results and Follow-Up
What do the results of a lipid panel mean?
Blood test reports, including lipid panel blood test reports, usually provide the following information:
- The name of the blood test or what was measured in your blood.
- The number or measurement of your blood test result.
- The normal measurement range for that test.
- Information that indicates if your result is normal or abnormal or high or low.
What are normal lipid panel results?
The optimal level (measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood — mg/dL) for each of the four standard tests in a lipid panel are as follows:
- Total cholesterol: Below 200 mg/dL.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: Above 60 mg/dL.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: Below 100 mg/dL (For people who have diabetes: Below 70 mg/dL).
- Triglycerides: Below 150 mg/dL.
If your results are higher or lower than the target range, they may be classified as borderline-, intermediate-, or high-risk for cardiovascular issues. In general, higher-than-normal levels of total cholesterol, LDL and triglycerides and lower-than-normal levels of HDL can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
It’s rare to have abnormally low levels of cholesterol. If you do, it’s usually due to a health condition that’s causing malnutrition.
Should I be concerned if I have abnormal lipid panel results?
If your lipid results reveal that you have high levels of total cholesterol, LDL and/or triglycerides and/or low levels of HDL, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a medical condition or need treatment.
A healthy cholesterol range for you may depend on many factors. Your healthcare provider will take into consideration the following factors when interpreting your lipid panel results:
- Your age.
- Your overall health.
- Your medical history.
- Your current medications.
- Other risk factors you may have for cardiovascular disease.
Many providers use a special risk calculator using these factors to determine if you need further tests or treatment. If you have questions about your results, don’t be afraid to talk to your provider.
What are the next steps if my lipid panel results are abnormal?
Since many factors contribute to cardiovascular disease and every person is unique, there’s no one single way to treat abnormal levels of cholesterol and/or triglycerides.
If you have abnormal lipid panel results, your healthcare provider may recommend one or more of the following actions:
- Continued lipid monitoring.
- Lifestyle changes, such as changing your diet or starting an exercise routine.
- Starting a cholesterol-lowering medication.
When should I call my doctor?
If you develop new risk factors for cardiovascular disease, contact your healthcare provider. They may have you undergo a lipid panel or more frequent lipid panel screening.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Seeing an abnormal test result can be stressful. Know that having an abnormal lipid panel result doesn’t necessarily mean you need treatment. While cholesterol and triglyceride levels can play a significant role in your overall health, many other factors contribute to your risk for cardiovascular disease. Your healthcare provider will take many factors about your health and history into consideration when determining the next steps. Together you will decide on a plan that works best for you.
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