A cholesterol test — also known as a lipid panel or lipoprotein profile — is a blood test that checks the level of cholesterol in your blood. This test helps doctors estimate your chance of heart disease. Beginning at age 35 for most men and 45 for most women, a cholesterol test is recommended every five years or as directed by your doctor.
There are three types of cholesterol tests:
- A full lipid panel measures your total cholesterol as well as your low-density and high-density lipoprotein (LDL and HDL) levels, and triglyceride levels. It is the test most often performed to judge your chances of heart disease.
- A total cholesterol test measures the total of all types of cholesterol in your blood to see if the level is normal or high. It is not performed as often as the lipid panel.
- A direct LDL test measures your LDL level only using a specific method. It is used when LDL cannot be measured by the other test for technical reasons.
The goal of all of these tests is the same: to let you know your chances of having some form of heart disease. While people vary, most of the time the best levels are:
|Total Cholesterol Level||Less than 200 milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dL)|
|HDL Cholesterol Level||More than 40 mg/dL for men; more than 50 mg/dL for women|
|LDL Cholesterol Level||Less than 100 mg/dL*|
|Triglyceride Level||Less than 150 mg/dL|
If your cholesterol levels are not the best, be sure to talk to your doctor about your test results.
* Your goal LDL level should be based on your chances of having a heart attack, which includes other factors. Learn more about LDL levels.
Your Total Cholesterol Level
Cholesterol is essential for all animal life. Your cells couldn't live without it. Too much cholesterol in the blood harms your heart and blood vessels. A cholesterol blood test is used to find out if you have high cholesterol. It is almost impossible to have cholesterol levels that are "too low" except in very unusual illnesses.
Your test result will fall into one of these ranges:
|Normal||Less than 200 mg/dL|
|Borderline High||200-239 mg/dL|
|High||More than 240 mg/dL|
If your test results show your total cholesterol to be 200 mg/dL or higher, your doctor will most likely do a lipid panel to measure your LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels.
Your HDL (Good) Cholesterol Level
The higher your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) level, the better. HDL removes cholesterol from the blood stream. For the most part, men's HDL levels should be above 40 mg/dL and women's levels should be above 50 mg/dL. Values lower than these thresholds increase your chances for heart disease. Levels higher than 60 mg/dL in fact lower your chances for heart disease.
Unlike HDL, lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels are better. LDL deposits cholesterol on your artery walls, creating cholesterol plaque that can clog your arteries. This explains why having less LDL cholesterol is better for your body.
Your goal LDL level should be based on your chances of having a heart attack, which is based on your age, tobacco use, blood pressure and HDL level. Your doctor will also factor in diabetes and family history of heart disease.
For a person who has an average change of having a heart attack, LDL level is:
|Normal||Less than 100 mg/dL|
|Near/Above Normal||100-129 mg/dL|
|Borderline High||130-159 mg/dL|
|Very High||190 mg/dL|
Your Triglyceride Level
Triglycerides are a form of fat made from leftover calories your body does not burn off as energy. If you eat more calories than your body needs, your triglyceride level may be high. Your triglyceride level falls into one of these groups:
|Normal||Less than 150 mg/dL|
|Borderline High||150-199 mg/dL|
|Very High||500 mg/dL|