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A Guide to Lipid Blood Tests

written by: Kate Henschel•edited by: Diana Cooper•updated: 7/5/2011

Looking for more information about the lipid blood test? Unsure what your doctor has ordered for you? Read on for more details.

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    Lipid Blood Test: The Basics

    Lipid blood tests, also known as a lipid panel, lipid profile, or coronary risk panel, are a series of blood tests that are used to look at the patient's risk of coronary heart disease. By looking at various cholesterol levels, it is possible to determine how likely someone is to have a heart attack or stroke. These blood tests should be done every five years in patients with no previous history of high cholesterol levels,

    Several tests are included in a typical lipid panel. These include:

    • Total cholesterol
    • High density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C)
    • Low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C)
    • Triglycerides

    Sometimes a coronary risk panel also includes a test for very low density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL-C) and non-high density lipoprotein cholesterol (non-HDL-C).

    The blood for this test is typically drawn from the arm, though it may also be taken from a fingertip prick. The blood should be drawn after a 9-12 hour fast where the patient consumes only water.

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    The Tests

    Several different tests are done on the blood in order to have a more complete view of the patient's heart health.

    Total Cholesterol (TC): While cholesterol, a type of fat, is needed by your body to maintain healthy cells, too much can be very dangerous because it can clog arteries. This test looks at the overall level of cholesterol in your body.

    High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (HDL-C): This is known as "good cholesterol" because it moves excess cholesterol out of the blood and into the liver. The higher this level is the better, as a high HDL level can indicate a lower risk for heart disease.

    Low Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (LDL-C): This is known as "bad cholesterol" because it moves cholesterol from the blood into cells, and many doctors treat this type of cholesterol with medication in an attempt to lower a patient's risk of heart disease.

    Triglycerides (TG): This type of fat that is found in the blood increases after eating foods high in sugar and fat or drinking alcohol. The level of triglycerides is also typically higher in obese patients and patients with liver or thyroid problems. A high triglyceride level is indicative of a high risk of coronary heart disease.

    Non-High Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (non-HDL-C): This number is calculated by subtracting the HDL-C level from the total cholesterol number. The remaining number is the level of atherogenic cholesterol (cholesterol that can clog or narrow arteries).

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    What Does it Mean?

    When you get the results back from a lipid panel, you should consult with your doctor. Many factors play into heart disease, such as diet and genetics, and lipid blood tests will help your doctor to understand your personal health situation. There are ways to manage high cholesterol levels, such as diet and specific medications, but only your doctor can determine the best treatment for your case.

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    American Association for Clinical Chemistry. "Lipid Profile." January 4, 2009.

    Cleveland Clinic. "Lipid Blood Tests." August 2010.