How to understand a lipid panel

A lipid panel provides an overview of your total cholesterol and triglyceride levels.


The lipid panel is a profile of the human body’s lipids to monitor abnormalities such as high cholesterol or high levels of triglycerides. Lipids are fatty substances that are important building blocks of cells. But when humans consume too many extra calories, excess cholesterol may be carried through the blood that over time can block the blood vessels and cause cardiovascular disease or raise the risk of stroke. 

Where patients may be at risk of high cholesterol or high triglyceride levels, a doctor can perform a blood test to obtain a lipid panel.

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How does the lipid panel test work?

The blood test is usually obtained after a night of fasting. The doctor can take a blood sample by drawing blood from a vein using a needle or by pricking the finger. The panel measures the total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein, low-density lipoprotein, and triglyceride levels.


The total cholesterol is a measure of the cholesterol concentration per unit blood in mg/dL. A normal total cholesterol level will usually be below < 200 mg/dL.


Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke if levels become too high. Normal levels are typically below 130 mg/dL.


High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is also referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol because HDL helps the body to eliminate cholesterol via the liver. Normal levels range between > 40 mg/dL for men and > 49 mg/dL for women.


Where triglyceride levels are higher than 150 mg/dL, your risk of prediabetes could be elevated.


Here’s an overview of healthy, borderline and high cholesterol and triglyceride levels:


  Desirable Bordering high/low High/Low
Total Cholesterol < 200 mg/dL 200-239 mg/dL > 239 mg/dL
HDL Cholesterol > 60 mg/dL 40-60 mg/dL < 40 mg/dL
LDL Cholesterol < 129 mg/dL 130-159 mg/dL > 159 mg/dL
Triglycerides < 150 mg/dL 150-199 mg/dL > 199 mg/dL


What should I do if my LDL and triglyceride levels are high?

If your test results come back borderline or too high/low, your doctor will typically be able to advise you on the next steps to take. Lifestyle modifications including changes to your diet and an exercise schedule have been shown to be effective in lowering bad cholesterol levels and boosting good cholesterol. You may also be prescribed statin to reduce the amount of cholesterol your body creates naturally.



  1. French, K, Y Wang, J Jia, & Y Zhang, "Using the VAP lipid panel for the detection, evaluation, and treatment of patients “at risk” for CAD.". in Frontiers in Laboratory Medicine, 1, 2017, 182-185.
  2. Savolainen, J., Kautiainen, H., Niskanen, L., & Mäntyselkä, P. (2015). Decreasing cholesterol levels in the community--lifestyle change with statin?. BMC family practice, 16, 29. doi:10.1186/s12875-015-0240-y

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