Cholesterol Tests

Lipid Panel

A lipid panel tells doctors about the levels of several forms of cholesterol, the better to determine a patient's risk of heart disease.

Although large-scale studies have found that a measure of total blood cholesterol can predict the risk of coronary heart disease, a lipid panel provides much more useful information. This is the measurement of total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

A lipid panel requires 9 to 12 hours of fasting. When not fasting, only the results for the total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol are valid. All adults over age 20 should have a lipid panel obtained every five years, and people at high risk of coronary heart disease may be recommended to get a lipid panel more frequently.

Total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides can be measured directly. LDL cholesterol is calculated by subtracting HDL cholesterol and VLDL cholesterol from total cholesterol.

To determine VLDL cholesterol, divide triglycerides by five (this is because VLDL carries roughly five times as much triglyceride as cholesterol). For people with triglycerides over 200 mg/dL, this calculation of VLDL cholesterol is not as accurate as it is when triglycerides are lower. Indeed, if triglycerides exceed 400 mg/dL, the calculation is too unreliable to be useful.

In cases in which triglyceride levels are high, measurement of non-HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B may be more useful overall in determining the risk of coronary heart disease. Find out how doctors calculate these numbers on the next page.

For more information on cholesterol, see:

  • Cholesterol Levels: We all know there's "good" and "bad" cholesterol. Find out why you need more of one kind of cholesterol and less of the other.
  • Causes of High Cholesterol: Diet and DNA are the main causes of high cholesterol. Learn why the numbers might be high in your case.
  • Consequences of High Cholesterol: High cholesterol can lead to a heart attack. Learn more  about high cholesterol and heart attack and what other conditions high cholesterol contributes to.
  • How to Lower Cholesterol: Like many conditions, eating right and exercising helps control cholesterol. Learn what that means for you.
  • How Cholesterol Works: Cholesterol is essential to the body. Find out why we need it and how much is too much.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.