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How to Read Lipid Panel Results

Table of Contents

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Getting your results for the lipid panel may spark questions on how to interpret or read them accordingly. Fortunately, many lab test reports show straightforward medical meanings of parameter values.

To read the lipid panel results, compare the reported measurement to the normal range. Results above the designated value bracket indicate a high or low amount of the lipid in question. You can use this information on lipid panel normals as a basis for your interpretation.

  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein): Less than 100 mg/dL
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein): 40 mg/dL or more for men and 50 mg/dL for women
  • Total cholesterol: 125 to 200 mg/dL
  • VLDL: Less than 30 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 mg/dL

Learn more about the meaning of your lipid panel results as you read on. 

Did You Know? A lipid panel is a standard blood test required by healthcare providers to assess your risk for cardiovascular disease and track treatment. You can order this test online along with other heart health blood tests

How To Interpret Lipid Panels in 5 Steps

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Happy female athlete holding exercise mat while texting on mobile phone at home.

Understanding your lipid panel results is simple and doable, even without an in-depth background in the medical field. Here are the steps to an easy way to read lipid panel reports. 

  1. Access your lipid panel report online and when you receive it via mail.
  2. Check the parameters or markers included in the test (total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, VLDL, and Triglycerides). They are usually found on the bottom half of the results document. 
  3. Pay attention to the value of each parameter, often measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). 
  4. Compare the results of the measurement to the healthy reference range. 
  5. If your lipid level is outside the normal range, consult your doctor for proper treatment – whether it’s a prescription for medication or lifestyle alteration. 

While these steps are straightforward, keep in mind that knowing the purpose of each marker will help you analyze what the numbers mean. Still, when you’re unsure, visit your doctor or book an appointment for an online medical consultation

What Tests Are in a Lipid Panel?

When getting a basic lipid panel, you will receive results of how much fat you got in your blood. 

Primarily, the report will list the level of triglycerides in your sample and different types of cholesterol. 

All these markers help determine your heart health and risk for hypertension, and cardiovascular diseases. Thus, to interpret a lipid panel report, you must understand the value of each marker and how they compare to the normal reference range.

Check the following inclusions in a lipid panel, their purpose, normal range, and implications.  

HDL Cholesterol

High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is dubbed the “good cholesterol” since it removes bad cholesterol that sticks to the blood vessel wall. The more HDL there is than LDL, the lower your risk of heart disease.  

What Does It Mean To Have Abnormal HDL Cholesterol?

The normal value for HDL should not be less than 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women. Having HDL levels below these figures makes you more susceptible to plaque formation in your arteries. 

On the other hand, a very high level of HDL could also cause harm to some extent. For example, a 2021 study published in Biomedicines found that people with HDL higher than 60 mg/dL have a 50% chance of experiencing a heart attack. So, it’s best to keep your HDL level between 40 mg/dL to 60 mg/dL.   

LDL Cholesterol

You may have heard of “bad cholesterol” when discussing food and cardiovascular health. Clinically, bad cholesterol is known as low-density lipoprotein or LDL. LDL may accumulate in the walls of your blood vessels (also known as plaque deposits), leading to blockage and reduced blood circulation. 

In a lipid panel, the normal range for LDL is between 0 to 99 mg/dL for adults aged 20 and above. For those 19 and below, the reference interval for healthy LDL levels is from 0 to 109 mg/dL.  

What Does It Mean To Have High LDL Cholesterol?

If your lipid panel test results show increased LDL, it implies that you have a higher risk for stroke and cardiovascular conditions such as peripheral and coronary artery disease. This is because it narrows blood vessels, which in turn, slows down or even blocks blood flow.  

Some prominent causes of high LDL include a poor diet, lack of exercise, old age, and unhealthy habits like smoking. Likewise, it can also be due to metabolic disorders such as

obesity, diabetes, pancreatitis, and hypothyroidism. 

Total Cholesterol

As the name implies, your total cholesterol measures all types of cholesterols in your blood. It is a combination of your LDL and HDL. 

The healthy range for total cholesterol is 125 to 200 mg/dL for adults aged 20 and above. In some reports, the reference interval is 100 to 199 mg/dL. You will find a section in the result indicating if your total cholesterol is high or low. 

What Does It Mean To Have Abnormal Total Cholesterol Levels?

Suppose your total cholesterol value goes above or below the healthy range. In that case, it could signal metabolic disorders and conditions affecting blood circulation, heart health, as well as renal and liver functions. Check out the implications below.

High Total Cholesterol: This can be associated with hypothyroidism, impaired liver functions, and a decadent lifestyle. Elevated cholesterol in the blood increases your risk for coronary heart disease, atherosclerosis, and obesity. 

Low Total Cholesterol: This could be due to malnutrition, liver and blood disease, hyperthyroidism, malabsorption, chronic infections, and some cancers. 

Triglycerides

Triglyceride is a type of fat in the blood that stores unused calories from food. It’s generally used as a reserved energy source. It’s also different from cholesterol, albeit identified as a lipid, since cholesterol is produced by the liver to build cell walls and produce hormones. 

In a lipid panel, the normal value for triglycerides is from 0 to 149 mg/dL. Above this range, your triglyceride levels are considered abnormal. 

What Does It Mean To Have High Triglycerides?

Elevated triglycerides, also known as hypertriglyceridemia, can be due to consuming more calories than you burn. A high concentration of triglycerides increases your risk for health conditions such as obesity, chronic renal disease, liver problems, type 2 diabetes, and pancreatitis. 

VLDL Cholesterol

Very low-density lipoprotein or VLDL supplies triglycerides to different tissues. As a cholesterol, it comes from the liver and contains more fat than other types. Unlike LDL and HDL, measuring VLDL will require specialized testing, which involves getting its estimated amount from the triglyceride value. 

In some lipid panel or profile test results, VLDL may not appear. But for reports that contain this parameter, the normal value for VLDL should be below 30 mg/dL. 

What Does It Mean To Have High VLDL?

An elevated VLDL is linked to increased plaque buildup in the artery wall clogging blood circulation. As a result, your risk for heart failure and stroke also goes higher. 

While not all lipid panels usually include VLDL, it has become a crucial component for monitoring treatment for those with health conditions associated with cardiovascular functions and metabolism. 

How To Lower Your Cholesterol

Understanding lipid panel results is knowing how to respond to its implication and prevent further complications. While medications can help lower fats and cholesterol, you can achieve better results if you also do significant lifestyle adjustments. You can lower your lipid panel results by practicing the following actions.

  1. Remove Trans and Saturated Fats in Your Diet

Both trans and saturated fats increase LDL and triglycerides. To eliminate these lipids from your diet, always check the label of food products you buy from grocery stores. Also, stir clear from popular food sources of these fats like red meat, dairy products, and sugary foods. 

  1. Increased Your Soluble Fiber Intake

Studies provide evidence that soluble dietary fiber lowers cholesterol absorption in the bloodstream. Tweak your daily meals by including foods high in soluble fiber, such as green leafy vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, root vegetables, and fruits. 

  1. Replace Red Meat With Fish

Becoming more cholesterol-conscious means switching red meat like beef, pork, and lamb with fish, such as tuna, salmon, and mackerel. Unlike red meat, fish contains healthy amounts of cholesterol. On top of that, it also has high omega-3 fatty acids, which prevent stroke and heart attack. 

  1. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Weight gain has always been associated with high blood cholesterol. So, if you want to lower your risk for heart disease, make sure your BMI (body mass index) does not exceed the normal range. Do this by exercising regularly and managing your diet. 

  1. Cut off Smoking and Alcohol Consumption

If you’re a heavy drinker, it’s high time to keep the habit in moderation or lose it altogether once you receive high lipid test results. Excessive alcohol intake leads to high blood pressure, which aggravates heart disease. 

On the other hand, smoking has been proven to do nothing but harm the arterial wall, increasing your risk of blood circulation disorders. That said, protect your heart from failure by giving up cigarettes and other tobacco products. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the symptoms of high lipids?

High lipids in your blood might not produce any identifiable symptom unless you have experienced a related health condition such as a stroke or heart attack. Therefore, a blood test is the only way to detect high lipids.  The lack of early symptoms justifies the need to undergo lipid panel testing as part of your routine wellness checkup

What are the worst foods for high cholesterol?

A sensible way to lower your LDL is to stay away from foods that contribute to its increase. Some of the worst foods people with high cholesterol should avoid are processed red meat, full-fat dairy products, deep-fried foods, desserts, and fast food. 

How long does it take for cholesterol to go down?

If you’re taking cholesterol-lowering drugs, your LDL could decrease between 6 to 8 weeks. But if you rely solely on dietary adjustment and exercise, you will see your cholesterol going down within three to six months. Combining these two actions allows you to lower your total cholesterol in 30 days.   

The Bottom Line

Knowing how to read lipid results allows you to understand your fats and cholesterol levels. However, remember that you can’t make the diagnosis on your own. Instead, consult your doctor about the best course of action in lowering your cholesterol, especially regarding medication. This way, you’ll get the most effective option for managing your lipid levels.

Medically Approved By Dr. Edward Salko, MD

Dr. Edward Salko is the board-certified physician who reviews lab tests provided by PERSONALABS™. He earned his Bachelor of Science in chemistry and pre-med from the University of Florida in Gainesville and his Doctor of Osteopathy Medicine in 1980 from Kansas City University School of Medicine.

Dr. Salko’s career has specialized in family and emergency medicine. His passion is to provide clients with the tools they need in the most convenient way possible to allow them to take charge of their own healthcare. He has held a variety of positions in Kansas, Florida and Washington. Currently, in addition to his duties as Medical Director for Personalabs, he is a practicing emergency physician in Kennewick, Washington.

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