Lipids are a group of fats and fat-like substances that are important constituents of cells and sources of energy. A lipid panel measures the level of specific lipids in the blood.
Two important lipids, cholesterol and triglycerides, are transported in the blood by lipoproteins (also called lipoprotein particles). Each type of lipoprotein contains a combination of cholesterol, triglyceride, protein, and phospholipid molecules. The particles measured with a lipid panel are classified by their density into high-density lipoproteins (HDL), low-density lipoproteins (LDL), and very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL).
A lipid panel typically includes:
- Total cholesterol—measures all the cholesterol in all the lipoprotein particles
- High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C)—measures the cholesterol in HDL particles; often called "good cholesterol" because HDL-C takes up excess cholesterol and carries it to the liver for removal.
- Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C)—calculates or measures the cholesterol in LDL particles; often called "bad cholesterol" because it deposits excess cholesterol in walls of blood vessels, which can contribute to atherosclerosis. Usually, the amount of LDL-C is calculated using the results of total cholesterol, HDL-C, and triglycerides.
- Triglycerides—measures all the triglycerides in all the lipoprotein particles; most is in the very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL).
Some other information may be reported as part of the lipid panel. These parameters are calculated from the results of the tests listed above.
- Very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (VLDL-C)—calculated from triglycerides/5; this formula is based on the typical composition of VLDL particles.
- Non-HDL-C—calculated from total cholesterol minus HDL-C
- Cholesterol/HDL ratio—calculated ratio of total cholesterol to HDL-C
An extended profile (or advanced lipid testing) may also include low-density lipoprotein particle number or concentration (LDL-P). This test measures the number of LDL particles, rather than measuring the amount of LDL-cholesterol. It is thought that this value may more accurately reflect heart disease risk in certain people. (For more, see the article on LDL Particle Testing).
Monitoring and maintaining healthy levels of these lipids is important in staying healthy. While the body produces the cholesterol needed to function properly, the source for some cholesterol is the diet. Eating too much of foods that are high in saturated fats and trans unsaturated fats (trans fats) or having an inherited predisposition can result in a high level of cholesterol in the blood. The extra cholesterol may be deposited in plaques on the walls of blood vessels. Plaques can narrow or eventually block the opening of blood vessels, leading to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and increasing the risk of numerous health problems, including heart disease and stroke.
A high level of triglycerides in the blood is also associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), although the reason for this is not well understood.
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