Routine check-ups that measure your cholesterol levels play an important role in preventive health care. Your doctor will monitor your cholesterol levels by ordering a lipid panel, which is a blood test that determines how much of certain types of fat and fat-like substances may be present in your bloodstream.
How Often Should Your Doctor Request a Lipid Panel?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that adults over the age of 21 have their cholesterol tested every 4 to 6 years. If certain risk factors are present, your doctor may request a lipid panel more frequently.
These risk factors can include:
- History of family members who have heart disease or who had high cholesterol.
- Type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
- Excess weight or obesity.
- Unhealthy eating habits.
- Personal history of high cholesterol.
Men have an increased risk of developing high cholesterol when compared to women of the same age, but risk increases for women who are post-menopausal. Age also plays a role in how well the body process cholesterol, so a doctor may request more frequent lipid panels from anyone over the age of 65.
Healthy eating habits, regular exercise and certain lifestyle choices, like avoiding smoking and taking any prescribed medications for cholesterol-related issues, can help lower cholesterol and the risk of disease.
Understanding How Your Doctor Reads a Lipid Panel
Most lipid panels will report four specific measurements of fat or fat-like substances in the bloodstream. Measurements are given in milligrams per deciliter of blood.
- Total amount of cholesterol. More than 200 mg/dL may cause concern.
- Amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Sometimes called “bad” cholesterol due to its connection with clogged arteries. More than 100 mg/dL exceeds the normal range.
- Amount of high-density lipoprotein (HDL). Sometimes called “good” cholesterol due to its connection with the prevention of heart disease. Physicians prefer to see more than 40 mg/dL.
- Amount of triglycerides. A type of fat found in the blood. Anything less than 150 mg/dL is considered a normal level.
Your lipid panel may also include measurements for the ratio between total cholesterol and HDL, which can indicate whether you may be at risk of developing plaque build-up (atherosclerosis) in the arteries. Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), like LDL, may also be measured since it is also may impose a risk of build-up that leads to heart disease.
Medicare Coverage for a Lipid Panel
Diagnostic services like blood tests are covered by Medicare Part B. Cardiovascular screening through a lipid panel qualifies for Medicare coverage every 5 years. If your doctor determines you have a higher than average risk of developing heart disease or having high cholesterol, it may be possible to request additional coverage through your Part B Medicare insurance.
Medicare Advantage plans may also offer additional screening coverage, but these extra benefits are determined by each Medicare Advantage insurer and recipients will need to verify coverage terms with their insurer of choice. Medicare recipients who are also eligible for Medicaid benefits may qualify for additional screening covered by Medicaid if they have an increased risk, but dual-eligibility rules may be different in every state.
Your doctor can help you determine how frequently they need to review a lipid panel depending on your risk factors and current cholesterol levels.