A lipid profile or lipogram is a blood test that measures four key markers to asses your blood cholesterol levels. Unlike a finger prick blood test which only gives you an estimate of your total cholesterol level, a lipid profile will provide a fairly accurate measure of your total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Hypercholesterolemia (US ~ hypercholesterolemia) or high blood cholesterol is a serious concern in South Africa. With the move towards a more urban lifestyle, poor dietary habits and a sedentary lifestyle have increased the incidence of hypercholesterolaemia and heart disease. The risks of a high blood cholesterol is potentially life threatening and there is no signs or symptoms of hypercholesterolaemia unless you go for routine blood tests.
Ideally any person over the age of 25 years should have a finger prick cholesterol blood test conducted once a year. If you are over the age of 35 years then you should have an annual lipid profile. You should do these tests first thing in the morning or after having not eaten for at least 8 hours. Eating before the test can affect your results by increasing the blood levels and this will not allow your doctor to accurately assess your case.
What is LDL, HDL and Triglycerides?
When you conduct a lipid profile, you will notice that there are four levels on the report. Each of these readings indicate a level of a different aspect of your blood cholesterol levels and gives your doctor an idea of your body’s fat metabolism.
In South Africa, blood cholesterol is measured in mmol/L – millimole per litre. However some machines imported into the country may measure your cholesterol in mg/dL and the readings will differ between the two standards of measure.
LDL stands for low density lipoproteins and is usually known as the ‘bad cholesterol’. It plays a big part in the cholesterol build up on the walls of the blood vessels. A normal reading should be less that 3 mmol/L.
HDL stands for high density lipoproteins and is known as the ‘good cholesterol’. HDL cholesterol helps with removing cholesterol from the blood by transporting it to the liver for breakdown. A normal level will be 1.2 mmol/L or higher.
Triglycerides are the fats that increase in the blood after eating and will often be affected if you eat immediately before a test. The normal level for triglycerides should be less than 1.7 mmol/L.
The report will also give you a total cholesterol level. This is the same reading that is provided by a finger prick blood test machine. Your total cholesterol reading should be 5 mmol/L or lower to be considered as normal.
In the past the normal total cholesterol reading was considered as 5.2 mmol/L or less but guidelines have changed in recent years. If your total cholesterol is less than 6 mmol/L, then you may be able to manage your cholesterol levels with diet and exercise. However, if the total cholesterol level increases above 6 mmol/L then you will have to start on cholesterol lowering drugs.