How to Understand and Interpret the Lipid Profile Test Results

After you have received the fasting test report of the lipid profile, you should be able to read and understand what the test results mean. Knowing what the test values say will help you interpret it better.

I have separately published a chart showing the normal and abnormal range of the serum lab values of each type of cholesterol and the triglycerides in mg/dL and mmol/L, which acts as a reference to interpret the values in your own report.

You should refer to the chart for reference to compare the results of your lipid test.

Lipid profile or the lipid panel as it is also called is a blood test to determine the levels of the various types of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. You could also call it the test for cholesterol and triglycerides.

It includes testing for

You should read this comprehensive post on the lipid profile. It tells you

  • why it is done,
  • when it is ordered,
  • what are the normal and abnormal range of values,
  • why you need to fast before doing the test,
  • when it should be repeated,
  • how often you should test,
  • what other values can be calculated from its report,
  • and its relationship with diabetes and hypertension.

Interpreting the lipid profile test report simply means understanding where you stand vis-à-vis your cholesterol and triglyceride values in the blood and your risk of developing complications of undesirable values.

  • Are the lipid levels normal?
  • Are they on the borderline? Can you control them without lipid lowering medication and only with a proper diet, regular exercise, and a healthy lifestyle?
  • Are they high or very high? If so, then you will require a disciplined lifestyle and cholesterol or triglyceride-lowering drugs.
  • Evaluation of the person’s risk factors is also important in the management of high lipid levels.

An abnormal picture of the lipid profile results will need a correction to protect your health.

The correction can be in the form of natural methods such as a proper diet, regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes – TLC) without the use of medication or you may be required to take drugs to normalize your lipid profile.

Your doctor will analyze the results of your test plus he will evaluate you vis-à-vis any risk factors to proceed in the planning of the management.

As shown in the chart, you have the normal or the desirable levels, the borderline levels, the high levels and the very high levels.

Normal or ideal levels do not warrant any action. But, abnormal numbers will require a corrective action in the form of natural means and medication.

How to interpret the lipid profile test report?

The different values of each type of cholesterol and triglycerides have a story to tell.

The total cholesterol values tell you a vague story, nothing specific, except that one of your lipids is high or low.

LDL, the bad cholesterol, levels form an important component of the lipid profile test report. High levels indicate a risk of a heart disease or stroke. Higher the levels, more is the risk.

HDL is the good cholesterol. Its desirable levels are between 40 to 60 mg/dL. 60 mg/dL values indicate a healthy heart.

Triglycerides are again the bad lipids. They form the major portion of fats in the body. High levels indicate an unhealthy picture with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Very high levels of 500 mg/dL, especially due to heavy alcohol consumption usually results in an attack of acute pancreatitis.

All these complications of high lipids can be fatal.

The lipid profile test results also help to obtain other values, which again help to evaluate you further.

These include

VLDL cholesterol (VLDL-C)

VLDL cholesterol is an indicator of triglycerides (TG) in the bloodstream because it is made of about 60% TG

There is no simple, direct way of measuring VLDL cholesterol. To estimate its value, divide the obtained triglyceride value by 5 if the measuring unit is in mg/dL or divide by 2.2 if the value is in mmol/L.

Normal VLDL levels are from 2 to 30 mg/dL. This calculation is based on the composition of the VLDL lipoprotein.

Cholesterol ratios

Cholesterol ratios are values of one type of the lipid divided by another. They help in evaluating your risk of heart disease and stroke. This post on cholesterol ratios discusses each type of ratio and its importance.

Let us take the lipid profile values of each type of cholesterol and the triglycerides individually to interpret its effect and how to manage them.

Total cholesterol

Total cholesterol (TC) values are the sum total of all cholesterol, including LDL, HDL, VLDL and other lipids. So it could be high due to higher HDL levels, which is good. What we mean by high is 60 mg/dL instead of 40 mg/dL. Too high levels of HDL are not good.

TC levels could be high due to increased LDL and/or triglyceride levels, which signals a bad outlook.

Total cholesterol values also help to determine the TC/HDL ratio, which helps your health provider to evaluate your risk for coronary heart disease and stroke.

Just looking at the total cholesterol levels does not help to plan the management. Individual levels of LDL, HDL and VLDL are required for a planned treatment.

LDL cholesterol numbers

LDL is referred to as the bad cholesterol because of its high levels’ effect of causing atheromatous plaques on the arterial walls. This greatly increases the risk of developing a heart attack or stroke. Its high levels, therefore, have to be managed with great care and monitoring.

  • Optimal levels as shown in the chart above need no management.
  • Borderline values without risk factors can be brought down by Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC). Associated risk factors may require the use of medication. Please note that the health provider will use his discretion and this should best be left to him.
  • High levels and very high levels will require the additional use of drugs along with TLC to lower the levels.

HDL cholesterol

HDL is the good cholesterol because it carries any excess of LDL to the liver to be processed and excreted through the bile into the intestines.

Though 40 mg/dL is a good number, higher levels up to 60 mg/dl are better and protect your heart more.

Anything more than 60 mg/dL does not offer any significant advantage. Very high levels can be dangerous and can act as elevated LDL.

Lower levels of HDL can be brought up by TLC or may require cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins.

Triglycerides

Triglycerides again are the bad guys and higher levels can be very risky to harbor. Too much of it can make the blood thick and sludgy, increasing the risk of clot formation.

Borderline levels without risks can be brought down by TLC but high levels and very high levels will require the use of triglyceride-lowering drugs.

 

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