It's very possible your MD orders lab work and you have no idea what or why you're having blood drawn. Well, let's clear up the confusion when it comes to your cholesterol labs.
The terms "lipid panel", "lipid profile", and "lipoprotein profile" are used interchangeably to order the same set of labs. To make reading this easier, I'm going to use "lipid profile" from here on out.
"Lipid" is simply a medical term for "fat". A lipid profile measures fatty substances in your blood. Cholesterol is one type of fat.
When you eat food containing cholesterol or when your body produces cholesterol and releases it into your bloodstream, the cholesterol will attach to a protein. This package of cholesterol plus a protein is called a lipoprotein (lipid or fat plus protein). A lipid profile measures lipoprotein levels in your blood.
Lipid profiles include five components:
LDL - "bad" cholesterol
LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol carries mostly cholesterol, some protein, and minimal triglycerides throughout your circulation. LDL should be less than 130 mg/dL, ideally less than 100 mg/dL.
VLDL - "bad" cholesterol
VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol contains minimal protein and mainly transports triglycerides. VLDL should be less than 40 mg/dL.
Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood, not a type of cholesterol. Triglycerides are frequently used to estimate VLDL ("bad") cholesterol. Here's the calculation: triglycerides divided by 5 equals VLDL cholesterol. Triglycerides should be less than 200 mg/dL, ideally less than 150 mg/dL.
HDL - "good" cholesterol
HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol removes cholesterol from your bloodstream and carries it back to the liver. I like to think of HDL as a vacuum cleaner, picking up cholesterol LDL leaves behind in your arteries, the more HDL the better. HDL should be greater than 40 mg/dL, ideally greater than 60 mg/dL.
Cholesterol is essential to bodily functions, such as building cells and producing hormones. However, too much cholesterol will build up on artery walls, form a plaque, and potentially "plug" the artery resulting in a heart attack or stroke. Total cholesterol is calculated from the above components (Total cholesterol = HDL + LDL + VLDL). Total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL.
Do you see how if you only know your total cholesterol, you only have one piece of the lipid profile?
Now, sometimes your results will include ratios or a risk score. Here's an explanation of what those numbers mean.
A risk score is based on you lipid profile results, sex, age, family history, and various other risk factors. If you have a high risk score for heart disease, it's best to speak with your MD to evaluate your risk score.
Cholesterol : HDL Ratio