Either way, it is best to have an understanding of how your cholesterol is measured and what the results mean for you.
A lipid panel measures the amount of cholesterol in your blood (in terms of milligrams per deciliter of blood or md/dL). Besides the standard lipid panel that your doctor may request, there are a few newer tests that may be added.
The Classic Lipid Panel Test
For the standard lipid profile that most doctors use to measure cholesterol, there are four numbers that appear on your results:
- HDL “Good” cholesterol
- LDL “Bad” cholesterol
- Total cholesterol
Before Your Test
The lipid panel is typically administered as a fasting blood test. You’ll be asked not to eat or drink, probably after midnight of the night before. This is to ensure that the measurement of cholesterol in your blood isn’t affected artificially by whatever you may have chosen to eat. This could give a false negative or positive effect on your results. Cholesterol is both produced by the body and contained in food, which is why this is important in measuring totals.
In addition to food, alcohol and some medications may also influence test results. Be sure to tell your doctor whether you drink alcohol and what medications you’re taking prior to the test. Pregnancy can also influence test results.
The New Testing Frontier
The lipid panel has been the standard for many years. However, newer types of tests measure the size of the cholesterol particles, rather than the total amounts of them. The size of the LDL cholesterol particle dictates how likely they are to “stick” to arterial walls and cause a buildup of plaque. This plaque narrows and hardens the arteries, contributing to heart attacks and strokes.
There are two new tests that determine the quality, rather than just the quantity, of cholesterol particles. Your doctor may recommend these tests in order to have a more complete picture of your blood cholesterol landscape.
- VAP Test, or Vertical Auto Profile: LDL can be made up of larger, “fluffier” molecules that slip easily through the blood vessels, or smaller, more dangerous ones that tend to stick. This test does not require fasting, because it analyzes composition rather than total numbers. The VAP also differentiates between the subtypes of HDL good cholesterol (the HDL2 subtype is the most beneficial).
- LPP, or Lipoprotein Particle Profile: This offers many of the same measurements as the VAP when it comes to identifying the composition of the cholesterol particles in your blood. However, it can be more precise., It also measures remnant lipoprotein, or RLP. This is a particularly threatening subtype of cholesterol, so this test is a helpful new tool in your testing arsenal.
One More to Consider
According to the American Heart Association, a CRP test can be a useful diagnostic tool for some patients. The CRP (or C-reactive protein test) is an indicator of general inflammation levels in your body. Since arterial disease is basically an inflammatory process, this test can help establish your risk levels. It is recommended for those people who are defined as being at medium risk of heart disease, not on the high or low end of risk.
The more we learn about cholesterol and how it works in the body and its contribution to heart disease, the more important the various types of tests can become in helping gauge your health risks. Discuss these tests with your healthcare practitioner. He or she will be able to determine which would be best for you.