Lipoprotein (a)

Other names: Lp(a); Lipoprotein Little a

Lp(a) is a lipoprotein, which is made up of an LDL (low density lipoprotein) molecule attached to another protein (apolipoprotein). Apolipoprotein can interfere with the role of plasminogen, which can contribute to blood clotting; it can also cause LDL to attach to the walls of the arteries, which may contribute to heart disease.

When is the test used?

The test is used as part of a series of tests to determine an individual’s risk of developing heart disease. The Lp(a) test is usually ordered when an individual has risk factors for heart disease or family history of developing heart disease at a young age; risk factors for heart disease include family history, obesity, high blood pressure, poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and diabetes.

The test is usually only ordered in younger people when they have abnormal results for other tests for cardiovascular disease.

How is the test performed?

The test is done by collecting and analysing a sample of the patient’s blood; the sample is taken by inserting the needle into a vein into the arm. The blood is then drawn out and collected in a syringe and the sample is then placed in a bottle, labelled with the patient’s name and sent off to the laboratory for testing.

What do the test results show?

The level of Lp(a) is usually stable throughout an individual’s lifetime and is generally dependent on genes; hence the test is usually used for people with a family history of premature heart disease.

High levels of Lp(a) may indicate that the patient has a high risk of developing coronary artery disease and cerebral vascular disease. High levels of Lp(a) mean that it is likely that fat deposits will settle and build up on the walls of the arteries, which obstructs the flow of blood around the body and causes the heart to work harder to pump blood around the body.

High levels of Lp(a) are also linked to several other health conditions, including:

  • Strokes
  • Heart attack
  • Chronic renal failure
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)
  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Depleted oestrogen production
  • Malnutrition
  • Alcoholism

The test should not be carried out if an individual has suffered a severe infection or trauma in the last four weeks; pregnant women are also not advised to have the test.

Specific Blood Tests

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