What does a lipid panel measure?
Lauren E. Frost, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
A standard lipid panel is a blood test that measures total cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and triglycerides. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is then calculated according to a formula. It can help assess a person’s risk for heart disease.
It is desirable to have high levels of HDL and low levels of LDL and triglycerides. The HDL particle transports cholesterol from the arteries to the liver, where it is broken down. The LDL particle may carry cholesterol to the arteries, where it can cause a buildup of plaque that can clog the arteries and possibly lead to a heart attack or stroke.
  • A desirable HDL level is higher than 50 for women and higher than 40 for men.
  • A desirable LDL level depends on a person’s risk factors, such as a history of heart disease or diabetes, hypertension and smoking. 
Triglycerides are a combination of sugar and fat that the body uses as energy. Triglycerides can be elevated due to physical inactivity, smoking, excess consumption of alcohol or carbohydrates or in some genetic conditions. Triglycerides are often elevated in people who are overweight or obese or who have diabetes.
A triglyceride level below 150 is considered desirable.   
Carl E. Orringer, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
A lipid panel is a blood test that measures the amounts of different types of fat carried in specialized particles in your bloodstream. The panel reports total cholesterol (a fatty substance carried in the blood by particles called lipoproteins), triglycerides (a manufactured fat that is an important part of fatty particles made by your liver that help deliver fuel to your muscles and help store fuel in fatty tissue to help you to survive in case of starvation), HDL cholesterol (the amount of cholesterol carried by HDL particles, which are involved in eliminating excess cholesterol from the blood vessel walls throughout the body) and LDL cholesterol (the amount of cholesterol carried by LDL particles, which are involved in delivering cholesterol to tissues throughout the body to make membranes around your cells, making hormones that are necessary for normal sexual development, aiding in salt and water balance, making vitamins and making bile to help us to digest our food). The lipid panel is one factor that helps your doctor to determine whether you are prone to future risk of hardening of the arteries, a process known as coronary atherosclerosis. This condition may lead to heart attack (death of a part of the heart muscle), need for a coronary stent (a mesh sleeve that can be used in selected patients to open an artery for a person who is experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath upon exertion), coronary bypass surgery (an operation in which a heart surgeon uses arteries or veins to re-route blood around narrowings in the arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle) or sudden cardiac death. Results of the lipid panel are also used to help to guide physicians to make medical decisions as to how to use diet, exercise and medication to help to prevent future heart attacks.
A complete cholesterol test, referred to as a lipid panel or lipid profile, includes the measurement of four types of fats (lipids) in your blood, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglycerides. LDL is sometimes called the "bad" cholesterol. Too much of it in your blood causes the accumulation of fatty deposits (plaques) in your arteries (atherosclerosis), which reduces blood flow. HDL is sometimes called the "good" cholesterol because it helps carry away LDL cholesterol, thus keeping arteries open and blood flowing more freely. Total cholesterol is the sum of your blood's cholesterol content. Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn't need to use right away into triglycerides, which are stored in fat cells and released later for energy.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.