Cholesterol and triglycerides tests: Overview

Cholesterol and triglyceride tests are blood tests that measure the total amount of fatty substances (cholesterol and triglycerides) in the blood.

Cholesterol travels through the blood attached to a protein. This cholesterol-protein package is called a lipoprotein. Lipoprotein analysis (lipoprotein profile or lipid profile) measures blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Cholesterol.

The body uses cholesterol to help build cells and produce hormones. Too much cholesterol in the blood can build up inside arteries, forming what is known as plaque. Large amounts of plaque increase your chances of having a heart attack or stroke.

HDL (high-density lipoprotein).

This helps move cholesterol out of the body. HDL does this by binding with cholesterol in the bloodstream and carrying it back to the liver for disposal. HDL may also reduce inflammation. A high HDL level is linked with a lower risk of heart disease.

LDL (low-density lipoprotein).

This carries mostly fat and only a small amount of protein from the liver to other parts of the body. A certain level of LDL in your blood is normal and healthy because LDL moves cholesterol to the parts of your body that need it. But it is sometimes called “bad cholesterol” because a high level may increase your chances of developing heart disease.

VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein).

This type contains very little protein. The main purpose of VLDL is to distribute the triglyceride produced by your liver. A high VLDL cholesterol level can cause the build-up of cholesterol in your arteries and increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Triglycerides.

Triglycerides are a type of fat the body uses to store energy and give energy to muscles. Only small amounts are found in the blood. Having a high triglyceride level along with a high LDL cholesterol may increase your chances of having heart disease more than having only a high LDL cholesterol level.

Cholesterol screening is often available in supermarkets, pharmacies, shopping malls, and other public places. Home cholesterol testing kits also are available. The results of tests done outside a doctor’s office or lab may not be accurate. If you have cholesterol screening done outside your doctor’s office, talk with your doctor about the accuracy of the results.

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