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A lipid panel is a series of tests that inform doctors on important cholesterol-related information. What should you know about these tests?

Cholesterol is actually a good thing, as it keeps cells healthy and helps produce some hormones that your body needs to function properly. However, when there is too much fat inside the bloodstream, it could end up in the cells rather than in the liver, where it’s eliminated. When this happens, people have high cholesterol levels. Thankfully, cholesterol levels can be kept under control, and hypercholesterolemia can be diagnosed with the help of a lipid panel.

What should you know about this test?

1. Lipid panels should be repeated every five years

A lipid panel is a test performed so that doctor may determine what your current cholesterol status is. What this test basically does is to measure how much fat is in your bloodstream. A lipid test doesn’t just measure the overall cholesterol level, but also takes a look at the good and the bad cholesterol, as well as the triglycerides level.

For adults that are above the age of 21, a lipid panel test should be repeated once every five years. People who are susceptible to high cholesterol should repeat this test even more often.

2. The lipid panel measures four different things

The lipid blood test will reveal the following information:

  • The total cholesterol level is calculated by adding up the good and the bad cholesterol measurements, but also 20 percent of your triglyceride level.
  • HDL, which is short for High Density Lipoprotein (or “good cholesterol” as it is often called), taken excess cholesterol from your blood and transports it to your liver. The liver will then be in charge of eliminating that fat from your body. High HDL levels have been linked with lower chances of blood vessel disease or heart attacks.
  • LDL, which is short for Low Density Lipoprotein (or “bad cholesterol”) is cholesterol from your bloodstream which is transported to the cells, instead of the liver. When LDL levels pass a certain threshold, the person is at a higher risk of having blood vessel disease or heart problems.
  • Triglycerides are also dangerous, as they are fats found inside the bloodstream. Triglycerides can build-up because of unhealthy diet (which imply a high consumption of alcohol, sugar, or fatty foods), but they can also be caused by other factors, such as having thyroid problems, liver disease, being overweight, or some other genetic problems.

3. Not every lipid panel test requires fasting

As mentioned before, the lipid panel will determine the total cholesterol in your body, but also the levels of triglycerides, HDL, and LDL. What a lot of people don’t know is that the lipid panel actually consists of three different measurements that require different preparations.

If you want the best results, it is best to avoid eating or drinking anything (except water) 12 hours prior to taking the test. Actually, the only tests that DO require fasting are the LDL and triglycerides tests.

Here is how to prepare for each test, provided that you are not doing an entire lipid profile at once:

  • Total cholesterol and HDL tests do not require any fasting, meaning that they can be done at any time of the day.
  • LDL and triglyceride testing requires a 12-hour fast, meaning that you should avoid all food and drinks (except for water) before giving a blood sample.

4. A lipid panel test isn’t always recommended

While the test should be repeated every five years, there are certain situations when this test is not recommended. Doctors state that it’s best to wait two months before taking the test if you are in any of the following situations:

  • Have recently suffered from an infection.
  • Were pregnant and gave birth.
  • Have suffered any recent heart attacks.
  • Were recently injured.
  • You’ve undergone surgery.

5. A correct LDL reading depends on your current health status

While there are some general guidelines for interpreting the lipid panel results for bad cholesterol, the intervals are different for patients with higher risk factors. Here is how the LDL results should be interpreted:

  • A result of 70 mg/dL is the best one for people who suffer from coronary artery disease.
  • A reading of 100 mg/dL is optimal for people with diabetes or for those who are at risk of coronary artery disease.
  • Readings between 100 and 129 mg/dL are somewhat optimal for those that do not have coronary artery disease (for those who do, the result is high).
  • Results between 130 and 159 mg/dL are high for those with coronary artery disease and borderline high for those who don’t.
  • Those who have LDL results between 160 and 189 mg/dL and have coronary artery disease should consider the reading as very high.
  • Anything that exceeds the 190 mg/dL threshold is considered very high, coronary artery disease or not.

6. Blood samples for lipid panels have more than one collection method

When you take a blood test for your lipid profile, the doctor or the nurse will normally insert a needle in one of your arm’s veins and collect a small blood sample through a syringe. However, this is not the only way to collect blood. There are portable testing devices which are normally used in remote testing locations (such as tents at a health fair). Those who collect blood for portable device analysis will typically puncture on of your fingertips and take a drop of blood from there.

7. Full lipid panels aren’t always mandatory

A lot of doctors choose to perform a total cholesterol test. If the results of this test are high, then the doctor proceeds to testing your full lipid profile, to better assess your current health situation.

Conclusion

A lipid panel is a series of tests that inform doctors on important cholesterol-related information. In general, lipid panels are part of a more general cardiac risk assessment.

The results of a lipid panel become even more relevant to a person’s current health status when they are compared with other risk factors. For instance, if you have coronary artery disease, some bad cholesterol readings may be more dangerous to you compared to someone with the same result, but who doesn’t suffer from this condition.

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