Think a stress test and a simple blood workup are all you need to assess your heart attack risk? Wrong.
Advanced Lipid Profile and Lipoprotein(a) Test
How They Work: Unlike the traditional cholesterol blood test, which measures total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides, the advanced test also looks at particle size. This is important because some particles are big and fluffy, so they tend to bounce off artery walls as they travel through the body. Others are small and dense, meaning they can penetrate the artery lining and form clumps of plaque. (Think beach balls versus bullets.) The Lp(a) blood test analyzes a specific type of cholesterol that can triple heart risk.
Cost: $19 each
Duration: 5 minutes
Why They’re Heart Smart: Sizing up your particles gives a clearer picture of heart risk than the conventional test: Having a lot of large particles cuts risk, while small ones raise it. The more Lp(a) you have, the worse it is too–it makes LDL particles extra sticky, so they cling to the lining of blood vessels, causing plaque and clots.
Get Them If: You have a family history of heart disease.
What the Results Mean: “You do not want more than 15% of your particles to be the small, dense type,” says Dr. Agatston. For Lp(a), levels above 30 mg/dl put you at increased risk.
Next Steps: If you have small particles, your doctor may prescribe a drug to increase their size, most likely a fenofibrate (such as TriCor or Trilipix) or niacin (vitamin B3), along with a healthy diet and exercise. Niacin is also the best treatment for high Lp(a).