What does it mean?
A complete cholesterol test — also called a lipid panel or lipid profile — is a blood test that can measure the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. This test can help determine your risk of the buildup of fatty deposits (plaques) in your arteries that can lead to narrowed or blocked arteries throughout your body (atherosclerosis). It is an important tool. High cholesterol levels often are a significant risk factor for coronary artery disease.
Why it's done
High cholesterol usually causes no signs or symptoms. A complete cholesterol test is done to determine whether your cholesterol is high and to estimate your risk of heart attacks and other forms of heart disease and diseases of the blood. A complete cholesterol test includes the calculation of four types of fats in your blood:
- Total cholesterol: is the sum of your blood's cholesterol content.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: is called the "bad" cholesterol. Too much of it in your blood causes the buildup of fatty deposits (plaques) in your arteries (atherosclerosis), which reduces blood flow. These plaques sometimes rupture and can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: is called the "good" cholesterol because it helps carry cholesterol, thus keeping arteries open and your blood flowing more freely.
- Triglycerides: are a type of fat in the blood. When you eat, your body converts calories it doesn't need into triglycerides, which are stored in fat cells. High triglyceride levels are associated with several factors, including being overweight, eating too many sweets or drinking too much alcohol, smoking, being sedentary, or having diabetes with elevated blood sugar levels.
Who should get a cholesterol test?
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), a person's first cholesterol screening should occur between the ages of 9 and 11 and then be repeated every five years after that.
Cholesterol screenings occur every 1 to 2 years for men ages 45 to 65 and for women ages 55 to 65. People over 65 should receive cholesterol tests annually. More-frequent testing might be needed if your initial test results were abnormal or if you already have coronary artery disease, you're taking cholesterol-lowering medications or you're at higher risk of coronary artery disease because you:
- Have a family history of high cholesterol or heart attacks
- Are physically inactive
- Are overweight
- Have Diabetes
- Eat an unhealthy diet
People undergoing treatment for high cholesterol require regular cholesterol testing to monitor the effectiveness of their treatments. You're generally required to fast, consuming no food or liquids other than water, for nine to 12 hours before the test. Some cholesterol tests don't require fasting, so follow your doctor's instructions. If your results show that your cholesterol level is high, don't get discouraged. You might be able to lower your cholesterol with lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, exercising and eating a healthy diet.
If lifestyle changes aren't enough, cholesterol-lowering medications also might help. Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to lower your cholesterol. A total cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL (5.17 mmol/L) is normal. A total cholesterol level of 200 to 239 mg/dL (5.17 to 6.18 mmol/L) is borderline high. A total cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL (6.21 mmol/L) or greater is high.
If your health care provider plans to measure your LDL cholesterol level, he or she may ask you to fast (avoid eating) for nine hours or longer in order to obtain an accurate result. A fasting test is more important if you have elevated triglycerides, greater than 200mg/dl.
Triglycerides: High triglyceride levels are also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Triglyceride levels are divided as follows:
- Normal: Less than 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L)
- Mildly Increased:150 to 499 mg/dL (1.7 to 5.6 mmol/L)
- Moderately increased: 500 to 886 mg/dL (5.6 to 10.0 mmol/L)
- Very High: Greater than 886 mg/dL (10.0 mmol/L)
HDL cholesterol: Not all cholesterol is bad. High levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol is often an indicator of a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. A level of 60 mg/dL (1.55 mmol/L) or higher is excellent, while levels of HDL cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL (1.03 mmol/L) are considered lower than desirable. There is no treatment that lowers your risk for a cardiovascular event by raising HDL cholesterol.
Here is to your good health