A lipid panel is a blood test that shows abnormalities in a person’s lipids. It measures cholesterol levels and triglycerides. Clinicians use these tests to assess the risk of cardiovascular disease.

A lipid panel assesses a person’s cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that the body uses to produce certain hormones and build the outer membrane of cells. Although the body needs a certain amount of cholesterol, excess levels can block the blood vessels and increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and atherosclerosis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that people undergo a cholesterol level checkup in childhood or adolescence and have the test every 5 years after the age of 20. It also recommends more frequent testing for those with cardiovascular disease risk factors.

This article looks at lipid panels, including the procedure and what to expect.

A lab technician conducting a lipid panel.Share on Pinterest
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A lipid panel is a blood test that measures the number of fat molecules, called lipids, in the blood. The lipid test measures four things:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: Also known as “bad” cholesterol, this can build up in the blood vessels and raise the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: Known as “good” cholesterol, it can decrease the buildup of LDL in the blood vessels.
  • Total cholesterol: This is the complete cholesterol level of LDL and HDL combined.
  • Triglycerides: This type of fat comes from the food people eat. Surplus amounts of triglycerides in the blood can influence the onset of cardiovascular disease.

Healthcare professionals use lipid panel blood tests to check a person’s cardiovascular health. They do this by checking the cholesterol and triglyceride levels in their blood.

A few reasons why a clinician may request a lipid panel include:

  • monitoring cholesterol levels
  • monitoring the body’s response to certain medications
  • helping diagnose other medical conditions such as liver disease

After taking a blood sample, a healthcare professional will send it off to a lab. There, they will assess the levels of the four lipid groups.

The optimum levels for each are as follows:

Lipid groupApproximate optimum level in milligrams per deciliter
LDL100 mg/dL
HDL40 mg/dL in males
50 mg/dL in females
Total cholesterolless than 200 mg/dL
Triglyceridesless than 150 mg/dL

Atypical levels may indicate a higher risk for cardiovascular issues such as heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.

If a person is at risk for cardiovascular disease, a doctor may request regular lipid panel tests. This will help them keep track of their cholesterol levels.

Additionally, a doctor may request a lipid panel test for someone who has one or more of the following:

Children may need a lipid panel blood test if they are at risk for high cholesterol levels. Cholesterol levels in children could be due to hereditary, diet, and obesity factors.

A healthcare professional will perform a blood draw on a person. They then send the blood sample to the lab for examination.

This section looks at what to expect before, during, and after the procedure.


Generally, a person will have to fast for up to 12 hours before the lipid panel blood test.

This means they will have to abstain from food or drink except for water. This is because consuming food or drink before the test can alter the results.

However, people can sometimes request a nonfasting lipid panel test.

Nevertheless, a person should ask a medical professional about the fasting requirements for their lipid panel. Additionally, an individual should inform the clinicians if they mistakenly break the fast.


On the day of the lipid panel test, a person can expect the following:

  1. A clinician will ask the person to sit down.
  2. A clinician will check the person’s arms for a visible vein, usually in the inner part of the elbow.
  3. Once they see a vein, they clean the area.
  4. Afterward, they insert a small needle into the vein and take a blood sample. This may feel like a tiny pinch.
  5. The doctor transfers the blood sample into a test tube.
  6. After the blood draw, the clinician will remove the needle and apply pressure using a cotton ball to stop the bleeding.
  7. Finally, they place a bandage over the draw site.

The entire procedure typically takes less than 5 minutes.


After the test, a healthcare professional will send the sample to a laboratory for analysis. Once the results get back, they will contact the person to share and explain the results.

A lipid panel test is a simple procedure that does not carry high risks. After the test, people can return to their everyday activities.

However, a person should avoid intense exercise, drinking, and smoking for a few hours.

Blood tests are one of the most common types of lab tests. Although there is little risk involved with them, there may be bruises or tenderness at the test site. However, these will go away quickly.

A person can speak with a doctor to discuss any concerns.

The lab results return in a few days to the doctor’s office. However, it could take longer in certain conditions.

People measure cholesterol in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. The table below shows what these test results could mean at each stage. Generally, a combination of low LDL levels and high HDL levels is best for the heart.

Typical cholesterol results for adults include the below.

Total cholesterol levelCategory
less than 200 mg/dLtypical
200–239 mg/dLborderline high
240 mg/dL and abovevery high
LDL cholesterol levelCategory
less than 100 mg/dLoptimum
100–129 mg/dLtypical
130–159 mg/dLborderline high
160–169 mg/dLhigh
190 mg/dL and abovevery high
HDL (good) cholesterol levelCategory
60 mg/dL and higheroptimum
40–59 mg/dLtypical
less than 40 mg/dLpoor

Next steps for atypical results

There is no one way to treat atypical cholesterol and triglyceride levels, especially since many factors can contribute to them.

In the case of an atypical result, a clinician may recommend at least one of the following options:

  • continuing regular lipid tests
  • adjusting a person’s diet
  • adjusting exercising habits
  • stopping smoking, if applicable
  • taking medication that lowers cholesterol levels

This section answers some frequently asked questions about lipid panels.

Does a lipid panel test liver function?

A lipid panel is a kind of blood test that measures the amount of fat in the blood vessels. However, as the liver is responsible for synthesizing lipids, this test may yield atypical results due to severe liver dysfunction.

Is there a nonfasting lipid panel?

There is a nonfasting lipid panel that does not require people to skip meals before the blood test.

A person should consult a medical professional to request one.

What are the warning signs of high cholesterol?

High cholesterol usually does not have signs or symptoms until it causes other problems, such as heart disease or stroke.

The only way to determine a person’s cholesterol levels is by carrying out a lipid panel.

A lipid panel measures the level of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood to assess the risk of cardiovascular disease.

While healthy adults should get their cholesterol levels tested every 5 years, people with heart conditions should undergo these screenings more frequently. Those at risk of cardiovascular disease may also need regular lipid panels.

A doctor can create a treatment plan for people with high cholesterol to reduce it. Treatment usually includes dietary changes, increased exercise, stopping smoking, and certain medications.