I. What is Lipid Panel Testing?

More than 650,000 Americans die of heart disease each year. Lipid testing looks for signs of heart disease so you can address the problem early.

Why you should get tested

You should get tested to determine if you have high cholesterol or high triglyceride levels. If you do, you can treat it early, reducing your risk of complications.

Who should get tested?

All adults should have their cholesterol levels checked occasionally. You may need the lipid panel more often if you have risk factors for heart disease.

When to get tested

If you don’t have any risk factors for heart disease, have the test at least once every five years after you turn 20.

II. How to Prepare for Lipid Panel Testing

Your cholesterol and triglyceride levels are affected by what you eat and drink. Before you have the lipid panel, you’ll need to fast for 10 to 12 hours. This means that you should refrain from eating or drinking anything other than water. If your doctor has ordered additional tests, such as a basic metabolic panel, check beforehand to see if you need to take any other steps before having your blood drawn.

III. How a Lipid Panel Works

The lipid panel measures your total cholesterol, triglycerides, and the amounts of “good” and “bad” cholesterol in your blood. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as good cholesterol because it has a protective effect on your cardiovascular system. Low-density lipoprotein is known as bad cholesterol because it can build up on the walls of your arteries, increasing your risk for stroke and heart attack.

To have this test, you generally need to have blood drawn by a technician. You can expect the technician to locate a vein in your arm or hand, clean the area with an alcohol wipe, and insert a needle to take blood from the vein. Home test kits are also available from companies like EverlyWell and MyLAB Box. If you decide to use a home testing kit, you’ll collect your blood sample by using a lancet to prick one of your fingertips.

IV. Understanding Lipid Panel Testing Results

If you had blood drawn by a technician, the results should be ready within a day or two. Depending on how your doctor’s office operates, you may receive a phone call or an email message with the results. In some cases, your doctor won’t contact you unless the results are abnormal. If you used a home test kit, the results should be available two to five business days after your sample arrived at the laboratory for processing.

If you have high cholesterol or triglyceride levels, your doctor may recommend dietary changes. For example, you may have to increase your fiber intake or add more vegetables to your diet. If dietary changes don’t work, your doctor may recommend a statin or another cholesterol-lowering medication. You may also need additional tests, such as the high-sensitivity C-reactive protein test, to assess your risk of developing heart disease.

V. FAQs

What is a normal total cholesterol level?

A cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL is considered desirable, while a total cholesterol of 200 to 239 mg/dL is considered borderline high. An individual has high cholesterol if his or her total cholesterol is 240 mg/dL or higher.

What is a normal triglyceride level?

A triglyceride level of less than 150 mg/dL is considered normal. Higher levels of triglycerides are classified as borderline high (150 to 199 mg/dL), high (200 to 499 mg/dL), and very high (500 mg/dL or higher).

What is a normal HDL level?

When it comes to HDL, a higher level is better than a lower level. An HDL level of 40 mg/dL is considered good, but an HDL level of 60 mg/dL is considered to have a protective effect against heart disease. An HDL reading of less than 40 mg/dL indicates that an individual has an increased risk of heart disease.

What is a normal LDL level?

The lower an individual’s LDL level, the better. An LDL level of less than 100 mg/dL is considered optimal. LDL levels may also be categorized as near-optimal or above-optimal (100 to 129 mg/dL), borderline high (130 to 159 mg/dL), high (160 to 189 mg/dL), or very high (190 mg/dL or higher).

If my cholesterol level is high, will I need to have more tests?

An individual with high cholesterol may need to have additional tests to determine his or her risk of developing heart disease or having a heart attack. These tests include an EKG, an echocardiogram, and a stress test. An EKG records the electrical activity of the heart, which helps medical professionals determine if there are any abnormalities. The echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound that helps determine if the heart has any structural or functional problems. A stress test helps determine if the heart is getting enough oxygen.

VI. Additional Resources

For more information on high cholesterol, heart disease, and obesity, plus how they’re diagnosed and treated, visit the following online resources.

Name Web Summary
MedlinePlus www.medlineplus.gov Learn more about the lipid panel and other blood tests used to diagnose and manage high cholesterol and heart disease.
American Heart Association www.heart.org The AHA provides a wide variety of resources on heart-healthy diets, managing heart disease, and the basics of common heart conditions.
National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute www.nhlbi.nih.gov Learn more about ischemic heart disease at the NHLBI website.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdc.gov Access statistics on obesity and heart disease.
Genetics Home Reference www.ghr.nlm.nih.gov GHR provides comprehensive information on the genetic changes that may play a role in the development of high cholesterol, heart disease, and obesity.

VII. Learn From Our Lipid Panel Sources