A cholesterol test, also called a lipid panel or lipid profile, measures the fats (lipids) in your blood. The measurements can indicate your risk of having a heart attack or other heart disease. The test typically includes measurements of:
- Total cholesterol. This is a sum of your blood's cholesterol content. A high level can put you at increased risk of heart disease. Ideally, your total cholesterol should be below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or 5.2 millimoles per liter (mmol/L).
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This is sometimes called the "bad" cholesterol. Too much of it in your blood causes the accumulation of fatty deposits (plaques) in your arteries (atherosclerosis), which reduces blood flow. These plaques sometimes rupture and lead to major heart and vascular problems. Ideally, your LDL cholesterol level should be less than 130 mg/dL (3.4 mmol/L).
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This is sometimes called the "good" cholesterol because it helps carry away LDL cholesterol, keeping arteries open and your blood flowing more freely. Ideally, your HDL cholesterol level should be 60 mg/dL (1.6 mmol/L) or higher, though it's common that HDL cholesterol is higher in women than men.
- Triglycerides. Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. High triglyceride levels usually mean you regularly eat more calories than you burn. High levels increase your risk of heart disease. Ideally, your triglyceride level should be less than 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L). The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that a triglyceride level of 100 mg/dL (1.1 mmol/L) or lower is considered "optimal." The AHA says this optimal level would improve your heart health.
Lipoprotein (a), or Lp(a), is a type of LDL cholesterol. Your Lp(a) level is determined by your genes and isn't generally affected by lifestyle.
High levels of Lp(a) may be a sign of increased risk of heart disease, though it's not clear how much risk. Your doctor might order an Lp(a) test if you already have atherosclerosis or heart disease but appear to have otherwise normal cholesterol levels.
Lp(a) is often tested if you have a family history of early-onset heart disease or sudden death. It should also be tested if your LDL cholesterol doesn't respond well to drug treatment.
Brain natriuretic peptide, also called B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP), is a protein that your heart and blood vessels produce. BNP helps your body eliminate fluids, relaxes blood vessels and funnels sodium into your urine.
When your heart is damaged, your body secretes high levels of BNP into your bloodstream to try to ease the strain on your heart. BNP levels may also rise if you have new or increasing chest pain (unstable angina) or after a heart attack.
Your BNP level can help in the diagnosis and evaluation of heart failure and other heart conditions. Normal levels vary according to age and gender. One of the most important uses of BNP is to try to sort out whether shortness of breath is due to heart failure. For people who have heart failure, establishing a baseline BNP can be helpful and future tests can be used to help gauge how well your treatment works.
A variation of BNP called N-terminal BNP also is useful in diagnosing heart failure and in some laboratories is used instead of BNP. N-terminal BNP may also be useful in evaluating your risk of heart attack and other problems if you already have heart disease.
A high level of BNP alone isn't enough to diagnose a heart problem. Your doctor will also consider your risk factors and other blood test results.
Jun. 01, 2011
See more In-depth
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