Lipids are a group of fats and fat-like substances that are important constituents of cells and sources of energy. A lipid panel measures the level of specific lipids in the blood.
Two important lipids, cholesterol and triglycerides, are transported in the blood by lipoprotein particles. Each particle contains a combination of protein, cholesterol, triglyceride, and phospholipid molecules. The particles measured with a lipid profile are classified by their density into high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL).
Monitoring and maintaining healthy levels of these lipids is important in staying healthy. While the body produces the cholesterol needed to function properly, the source for some cholesterol is the diet. Eating too much of foods that are high in saturated fats and trans unsaturated fats (trans fats) or having an inherited predisposition can result in a high level of cholesterol in the blood. The extra cholesterol may be deposited in plaques on the walls of blood vessels. Plaques can narrow or eventually block the opening of blood vessels, leading to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and increasing the risk of numerous health problems, including heart disease and stroke. A high level of triglycerides in the blood is also associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), although the reason for this is not well understood.
A lipid panel typically includes:
- Total cholesterol
- High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) — often called “good cholesterol” because it removes excess cholesterol and carries it to the liver for removal.
- Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) — often called “bad cholesterol” because it deposits excess cholesterol in walls of blood vessels, which can contribute to atherosclerosis.
Why Get Tested?
To assess your risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD); to monitor treatment
When To Get Tested?
Screening when no risk factors present: for adults, every four to six years; for youths, once between the ages of 9 and 11 and again between ages 17 and 21
Monitoring: at regular intervals when risk factors are present, when prior results showed high risk levels, and/or to monitor effectiveness of treatment
A blood sample obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in your arm or from a fingerstick.
Test Preparation Needed?
Typically, fasting for 9-12 hours (water only) before having your blood drawn is required, but some labs offer non-fasting lipid testing. Follow any instructions you are given and tell the person drawing your blood whether or not you have fasted. For youths without risk factors, testing may be done without fasting.