How to Understand a Lipid Panel

Blood Tests

How to Understand a Lipid Panel

Lipids are found in your blood and tissues. These fats are used as energy in your body, but if levels become too high and unbalanced, lipids can build up in the artery walls to form plaque. This can obstruct blood flow through the arteries and increase cardiovascular disease and stroke risks. Lipids include cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and triglycerides.

If your physician is concerned about your cholesterol levels, he most likely will request a lipids blood test panel.

What is a lipid test?

The basic lipids blood test measures total cholesterol, triglyceride levels, HDL and LDL cholesterol. More extensive lipid profile testing also includes VLDL, ratio of total cholesterol to HDL, and ratio of LDL to HDL.

Lipid profile testing is used to help determine your risk of heart disease along with other factors such as age, family history, cigarette smoking, diet, exercise, weight, blood pressure, and diabetes.

Your physician will also use a lipids blood test panel or lipid profile to monitor your treatment if you are prescribed a lipid-lowering medication such as a statin.

Cholesterol - 0 – 199 mg/dL

Cholesterol is required for the synthesis of steroid hormones and bile. It is a necessary component of cell membranes. If we don’t get cholesterol from our diet, the liver will make it. However, most people do receive plenty of cholesterol from their diet resulting in high cholesterol levels (greater than 200 mg/dL). The total cholesterol measurement is a sum of High Density Lipoprotein (HDL), Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL), and Very Low Density Lipoprotein (VLDL).

Low total cholesterol levels are generally preferred, but extremely low levels (LDL cholesterol levels less than 50 mg/dl) can decrease hormone levels and may result in problems with memory and cognition.

Triglycerides - 30 – 149 mg/dL

Triglycerides are the fats absorbed in the blood following a meal or made by the liver in response to diets rich in sugars, refined carbohydrates, or fats.

Conditions that can cause high triglycerides include hypothyroidism, diabetes, liver and kidney disease, corticosteroids, and diets high in refined carbohydrates and sweets as well as excess fat intake.

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HDL Cholesterol - 40 – 60 mg/dL

HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) is known as “good” cholesterol, because it helps to remove excess cholesterol deposits from the arterial lining. Higher levels can reduce the incidence of coronary heart disease.

Low levels of HDL significantly increase the risk of heart disease and are associated with diets high in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates, and refined sugars, especially high fructose corn syrup. Inactivity, obesity and cigarette smoking also reduce HDL levels.

High levels of HDL are the result of good genes, healthy dietary patterns, and adequate levels of cardiovascular exercise.

LDL Cholesterol - 0 – 99 mg/dL

LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) is known as “bad” cholesterol, because it deposits in the arterial lining and compromises blood flow.

Elevated LDL levels are the result of inactivity, obesity, and type II diabetes. LDL levels also increase from diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, saturated animal, trans, and hydrogenated fats.

VLDL - 0 – 40 mg/dL

VLDL (Very Low Density Lipoprotein) is made in the liver primarily from dietary triglycerides. It is typically estimated by a percentage of the triglyceride, because there is no way to measure VLDL directly. The same factors that alter triglycerides are believed to impact VLDL. High levels of VLDL indicate they may be building up in the arterial lining.

LDL/HDL Ratio - Below 5:1

Since both LDL and HDL levels are critical in predicting cardiovascular risk, this ratio is very important. It can help provide insight into risk assessment when both “bad” and “good” cholesterol are elevated. Most laboratories separate the interpretation of these ratios by gender. According to the American Heart Association, it is best to keep the ratio for LDL/HDL cholesterol below 5:1.


Coronary Risk Profile. Medline Plus. Retrieved on August 14, 2012 from

What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean. American Heart Association. Retrieved on August 14, 2012 from

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Additional Information

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