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How to Read a Lipid Panel

author image Laurel Heidtman
Laurel Heidtman began writing for her hometown paper, "The Harrison Press," in 1964. In addition to freelancing she has worked as a police officer, a registered nurse, a health educator and a technical writer. She holds an associate degree in nursing, a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Technical and Scientific Communication from Miami University of Ohio.
How to Read a Lipid Panel
A simple blood test can measure cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglyceride levels. Photo Credit Lumineux_Images/iStock/Getty Images

Cholesterol is needed by the body. The body makes cholesterol and it can be consumed in many foods. Excess can build up on artery walls, resulting in cardiovascular disease. For this reason, people need to be aware of their cholesterol levels. A lipid panel measures levels of total cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglycerides in the blood. Panel results also may report VLDL. MayoClinic.com recommends all adults over age 20 have a lipid panel done every five years. Ask the doctor for a copy of the results to refer to as needed.

Step 1

Look at the cholesterol reading. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the desired level for people age 20 and under is 75 - 169 mg/dL; for people over 21, it is 100 - 199 mg/dL. MayoClinic.com advises cholesterol between 200-239 mg/dL is considered borderline high and over 240 mg/dL is considered high. A cholesterol level that is too low may be a factor in some health problems, but more research needs to be done.

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Step 2

Look at the LDL reading. LDL stands for low density lipoprotein and is often called the “bad” cholesterol. The Cleveland Clinic advises the desired level of LDL is less than 70 mg/dL for people with or at very high risk of cardiovascular disease. For people with high risk of cardiovascular disease, the desired level is below 100 mg/dL, while the desired level for people at low risk is less than 130 mg/dL.

Step 3

Look at the HDL reading. HDL stands for high density lipoprotein and is often called the “good” cholesterol. HDL’s job in the body is to transport excess cholesterol from the blood to the liver where it can be eliminated or recycled. The Cleveland Clinic advises the desired level of HDL is more than 40 mg/dL.

Step 4

Look at the triglycerides reading. Triglycerides are a kind of fat that can be high due to consumption of simple sugars, fat or alcohol. Diseases of the liver and thyroid, genetic conditions and too much weight also can result in high triglycerides. The Cleveland Clinic advises the desired level of triglycerides is less than 150 mg/dL.

Step 5

Look at the VLDL reading. Not all lipid panels report this. VLDL stands for very low density lipoprotein. According to the National Library of Medicine, it is considered “bad” cholesterol. It contains a high amount of triglycerides and contributes to the accumulation of cholesterol on artery walls. It is not measured directly, but is generally estimated as one fifth of the triglycerides level.

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