At a glance

Also known as

Direct LDL-C; direct LDL; DLDL; LDL D

Why get tested?

To help determine your risk of developing heart disease and to monitor lipid-lowering lifestyle changes and drug therapies; to accurately determine your low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) level when you are not fasting or where your blood triglyceride (fat) levels are elevated.

When to get tested?

If your triglycerides are elevated ((due to inability to fast or other conditions), direct LDL may be ordered. It may also be useful in certain genetic conditions where there are high concentrations of IDL (intermediate density lipoprotein) or VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) particles. 

Sample required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm

What is being tested?

The direct low-density lipoprotein cholesterol test (direct LDL-C) measures the amount of LDL cholesterol, sometimes called 'bad' cholesterol, in the blood. Usually, the amount of LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) is calculated using the results of a standard lipid profile. In most cases, this is a good estimate of the LDL-C, but it becomes less accurate with increased triglyceride levels. Direct measurement of LDL-C is less affected by triglycerides and can be used when you are not fasting or when you have significantly elevated triglycerides (above 4.5 mmol/L).

How is the sample collected for testing?

A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.

 

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No test preparation is needed.

The Test

How is it used?

Measurements of low density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) are helpful in assessing a patient's risk for heart disease and in following therapy to lower cholesterol. A standard lipid profile consists of total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), and triglycerides. By applying a formula, the amount of cholesterol present in low-density lipoprotein can be determined, and this calculated value is typically reported as well. When triglycerides are high, the formula gives an incorrect result. In this situation, the only way to accurately determine LDL-C is to measure it directly.

High triglycerides may be due to a metabolic disorder affecting lipids, some medications  and other illness e.g. acute pancreatitis, especially after a fatty meal or alcohol. In these situations, the direct LDL-C test can determine the amount of LDL in a patient's blood.

When is it requested?

Direct LDL-C may be specifically ordered when calculation of LDL cholesterol will not be accurate because the patient's triglycerides are significantly elevated. In some laboratories, this test will automatically be run on the same sample if the triglycerides are too high. This saves the doctor an extra step and speeds up the test turn-around time. Some laboratories may choose to use this method for all LDL-C testing.

What does the test result mean?

Elevated levels of LDL, as measured with the direct LDL-C test, indicate a greater risk of developing heart disease. Decreasing levels show a response to lipid-lowering lifestyle changes and/or drug therapies and indicate a decreased risk of heart disease.

Low levels of LDL are not generally a concern and are not monitored. They may be seen in patients with an inherited lipoprotein deficiency and in patients with hyperthyroidism, infection and inflammation.

About Reference Intervals

Is there anything else I should know?

The direct LDL-C, like calculated LDL-C, should be measured when you are healthy and 'metabolically stable'. Illness, surgery, trauma, a heart attack, sudden weight loss or gain, and pregnancy can all temporarily affect LDL levels.

Common Questions

Why hasn't the Direct LDL-C replaced the calculated LDL-C test?

Calculated LDL-C is about as accurate as direct LDL-C when triglyceride levels are normal. It can be done at no additional cost to the client when a lipid profile is performed. Some laboratories choose to use this test for all LDL-C testing because of the high frequency of patients with elevated triglycerides in the population they service.

Is it true that there are different sorts of LDL particles?

Yes, LDL particles vary in size and density. People with high levels of small but dense LDL particles are believed to be at greater risk for atherosclerosis, than those with high levels of large LDL particles.

However, particle size is not routinely tested for in Australia because experts now believe that the actual number of LDL particles in the bloodstream is more important than the particle size. LDL particle number can be assessed by another blood test, the apolipoprotein B test, which is readily available in Australia. Each LDL particle has only one apolipoprotein B molecule, so your apolipoprotein B level indicates the total number of LDL particles in your bloodstream. In addition, the apolipoprotein B level does give an indication of particle size - for example, if you have a relatively low LDL-cholesterol level but a high apolipoprotein B level, this suggests you have a lot of small LDL particles.


Last Review Date: August 1, 2018