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The cholesterol test is a quantitative analysis of the cholesterol levels in a sample of the patient's blood. Total serum cholesterol (TC) is the measurement routinely taken. Doctors sometimes order a complete lipoprotein profile to better evaluate the risk for atherosclerosis (coronary artery disease, or CAD). The full lipoprotein profile also includes measurements of triglyceride levels (a chemical compound that forms 95% of the fats and oils stored in animal or vegetable cells) and lipoproteins (high density and low density). Blood fats are also called "lipids."
The type of cholesterol in the blood is as important as the total quantity. Cholesterol is a fatty substance and cannot be dissolved in water. It must combine with a protein molecule called a lipoprotein in order to be transported in the blood. There are five major types of lipoproteins in the human body; they differ in the amount of cholesterol that they carry in comparison to other fats and fatty acids, and in their functions in the body. Lipoproteins are classified, as follows, according to their density:
Because of the difference in density and cholesterol content of lipoproteins, two patients with the same total cholesterol level can have very different lipid profiles and different risk for CAD. The critical factor is the level of HDL cholesterol in the blood serum. Some doctors use the ratio of the total cholesterol level to HDL cholesterol when assessing the patient's degree of risk. A low TC/HDL ratio is associated with a lower degree of risk.
Author Info: Rebecca J. Frey, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 2002
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