There is a strong relationship between blood cholesterol levels, coronary artery disease and heart attacks although it is not completely clear how they are connected. A fasting lipid panel can measure your cholesterol level and relative risk of developing heart disease.

Cholesterol is a chemical called a lipid and is used in several metabolic processes. It exists in two main forms: HDL ("good" cholesterol) and LDL ("bad" cholesterol). HDL or high-density lipoproteins are known as "good" cholesterol because they carry cholesterol back to the liver. The liver can then break the cholesterol down into waste products that the body can eliminate.

LDL or low-density lipoproteins are known as "bad" cholesterol because they stick to the walls of the arteries and, over time, can build up and block the flow of blood. Triglycerides are another form of fat closely related to cholesterol. HDL, LDL and triglyceride levels are all measured in a fasting lipid panel. Since what you eat can influence the levels of these substances, you should not eat or drink anything except water for 12 hours before this test. At the lab, a nurse will usually draw blood from your arm. Your blood is then analyzed at a laboratory and results are sent to your doctor.

Several factors, such as diet, exercise and weight come into play when your doctor determines the overall significance of your cholesterol levels. The following tables are used as general guidelines only. Labs report cholesterol levels as milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dl) of blood.