Physicians often suggest that patients get a lipid test if they have issues with cholesterol that may require attention or underlying conditions likely to be affected by cholesterol levels. Lipids are fat-like substances that serve many different purposes within the body and its cells. In fact, some types of cholesterol are healthy and beneficial. However, there are times when lipid levels need to be checked so that important patient care decisions can be made.
Main Types of Lipids
The human body needs a certain amount of lipids to function. The purpose of a lipid test is to focus on the ones that often need to be monitored, usually to reduce a patient’s risk of developing heart disease or experiencing issues with other conditions that can be complicated by high cholesterol levels. The types of lipids often evaluated are ones related to:
- LDL (low-density lipoprotein): This so-called “bad cholesterol” deposits cholesterol in blood vessels after it’s transported to the liver.
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein): Often considered the “good cholesterol,” HDL removes other types of cholesterol from the bloodstream by transporting such substances to the liver.
- Triglycerides: These are the fats that enter the body from the foods consumed. They store fat that can be used as energy, but high levels can increase heart attack and stroke risk.
Why a Lipid Test is Recommended
A healthcare professional may order a test as part of a routine health check. Test may also be recommended for patients with other health-related issues that may increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, such as being excessively overweight or having a chronic condition like diabetes that’s not fully under control. Preventative screenings for lipid disorders are recommended every five years for the general population from age 20 and up. Screenings are recommended more often for men over the age of 35 and women 45 and older.
Lipid Panel Results
The most common type of test performed to check cholesterol levels is a lipid panel (also called a lipid profile). The test shows a patient’s total cholesterol level, HDL and LDL levels, and triglyceride levels. The panel can also show comparisons of total cholesterol to HDL, identify very low LDL levels, and compare HDL and LDL amounts to determine if a patient has an acceptable ratio. Lipid levels are considered acceptable when the following results are seen:
- Total cholesterol: Less than 200mg/dL is considered desirable.
- LDL: Less than 100mg/dL is considered optimal and 100-129mg/dL is near-optimal.
- HDL: With HDL, higher is better, so 60 mg/dL is considered protective against heart disease and anything less than 40 mg/dL suggests a major heart disease risk.
In order to avoid results affected by food that’s consumed, patients are typically advised to refrain from eating or drinking anything other than water for 9-12 hours prior to having blood drawn. Strenuous exercise and alcohol should also be avoided.
Results from lipid tests allow healthcare professionals to determine if a patient may need to take steps to manage their cholesterol. The information clearly presented in our easily accessible reports (available within 24 hours for most tests) may be used to recommend medications to control cholesterol and assess how current prescriptions are working. Such info can also serve as a basis for suggestions on lifestyle changes that may help restore cholesterol levels to healthy levels.