What is Lp(a)? Understanding Lipoprotein(a) and why it’s an important screening test

March 20, 2024

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your body needs to build cells, but in moderation. It travels through your bloodstream on carriers called lipoproteins. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, known as “good” cholesterol, carries excess cholesterol in the blood to the liver for removal. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, also called “bad” cholesterol, can build up in the arteries and raise your risk of heart conditions like stroke, blood clots and cardiovascular disease. Testing your cholesterol levels with routine bloodwork can help you keep your numbers in a healthy range.


But another type of “bad” cholesterol might be increasing your heart disease risk without your knowledge: Lipoprotein(a) or Lp(a).


Read on to learn more about Lp(a) and why testing your Lp(a) levels can help you protect your heart health.


What is Lp(a)?

Lp(a) is a specific type of LDL (i.e., “bad”) cholesterol. It’s a similar structure to a LDL particle and contains a protein called apolipoprotein (a). This combination makes Lp(a) stickier than regular LDL, causing it to build up easily in the walls of blood vessels.


Routine standard cholesterol tests typically don’t check for Lp(a) levels. Even if your LDL, HDL and total cholesterol results are in the healthy range, you can still have elevated Lp(a) levels that can contribute to plaque buildup in artery walls, increasing your risk of blood clots, heart attack, stroke and other cardiovascular conditions.


The genetic basis of high Lp(a)

Lp(a) levels are largely determined by genetics, not lifestyle factors. In fact, research shows that Lp(a) levels are 70% to 90% genetically determined.


If you have high Lp(a) levels, there’s a possibility that other members of your family do too. If you have an elevated Lp(a) level, you can encourage your family members to get screened as well.


Why test your Lp(a)?

Testing for Lp(a) is the only way to know if your levels are elevated, because high Lp(a) often has no symptoms. Labcorp OnDemand’s Lipoprotein(a) Test measures the Lp(a) level in your blood.


An Lp(a) screening test may be recommended if you have:

  • A personal history of heart disease or stroke before the age of 55 (men) or 65 (women)
  • Women in your family who have had a heart attack or stroke before the age of 65
  • Men in your family who have had a heart attack or stroke before the age of 55
  • High LDL cholesterol
  • Heart or blood vessel disease
  • Hardening of the arteries (i.e., atherosclerosis)
  • A family history of high cholesterol (i.e., hypercholesterolemia)
  • A personal history of multiple heart attacks and/or procedures to open up blocked arteries
  • Known family history of high Lp(a)


Although there are no targeted treatments to lower Lp(a) levels at this time, there are ways to reduce your overall risk of heart disease including lifestyle changes (such as well-balanced nutrition, physical activity, healthy weight, stop tobacco use, limit alcohol intake, get adequate sleep).


Don’t let this stealthy cholesterol jeopardize your heart health. Empower yourself by purchasing a Lp(a) screening test to know your level, and work with your healthcare provider to create a plan to optimize your heart health.