Optimal - The Blog

July 28, 2023

The Intricacies of Converting Lipoprotein(a) Units: A Detailed Analysis

Lipoprotein(a), often abbreviated as Lp(a), is an important molecule that is evaluated by many clinicians who use ODX for their advanced reporting. It is a type of low-density lipoprotein that is linked to atherosclerosis, making it a relevant factor in assessing cardiovascular disease risk. However, its accurate quantification and unit conversion are more complicated than expected. The conversion from its measurement in nanomoles per liter (nmol/L), which is the unit of measurement used by Quest and LabCorp and also ODX, to milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), and vice versa, is a subject of ongoing debate. This post seeks to elucidate the critical reasons behind these challenges.

Size Variability of Lp(a) Molecules

Lp(a) differs from other lipoproteins due to its unique structure. Each Lp(a) particle is made up of one molecule of LDL ("bad cholesterol") linked to a distinctive protein called apolipoprotein(a), which varies greatly in size between individuals. This structural variability results in a wide range of molecular weights for Lp(a) particles, making it challenging to standardize a conversion factor.

Genetic Factors

The genetic underpinning of Lp(a) further complicates the picture. The apolipoprotein(a) component of Lp(a) is encoded by the LPA gene, which exhibits a high degree of size polymorphism. This leads to an extensive range of apolipoprotein(a) isoforms in the population, each with a different number of so-called "kringle IV" repeats. The size of these repeats can influence the weight of the Lp(a) particle, making it hard to standardize a single conversion factor.

Measurement Techniques

The measurement techniques used for Lp(a) can influence the unit conversion. Assays that measure Lp(a) concentration in mass (mg/dL) do not take into account the number of Lp(a) particles, whereas molar-based measurements (nmol/L) do.

As a result, using a universal conversion factor may inaccurately represent Lp(a) concentration, particularly in individuals with smaller or larger than average Lp(a) particles.

Approximate Conversion

Despite these complexities, a generally accepted approximate conversion/correction factor of 2.15 does exist for clinical purposes to convert mg/dl into nmol/L:

1 nmol/L of Lp(a) = 0.465 mg/dL of Lp(a)
1 mg/dl of Lp(a) = 2.15 nmol/L of Lp(a).

Let's review a couple of sample results for Lp(a) in mg/dl and nmol/L, which you want to convert into nmol/L and mg/dl:

The result that comes back from the lab is 50 mg/dl. To convert this result into nmol/L, do the following:

  • Multiply the 50 mg/dL of Lp(a) by 2.15 to give you approximately 108 nmol/L of Lp(a)

The result that comes back from the lab is 108 nmol/L. To convert this result into mg/dl, do the following:

  • Multiply the 108 nmol/L by 0.465 to give you approximately 50 mg/dL of Lp(a) 

However, it's important to remember that these are approximate values, and precise conversion may not be accurate due to the factors in this article.

The preferred method used by labs ODX works with is the molar concentration unit nmol/L. Ideally, the lab you use reports Lp(a) in a molar concentration, so there is no need to convert Lp(a) results into a mass unit such as mg/dL.


In summary, converting Lp(a) units from nmol/L to mg/dL or vice versa is a complicated process due to the size variability of Lp(a) molecules, differing measurement techniques, inconsistent lab reporting practices, and genetic factors. While a general conversion factor of 1 nmol/L = 0.4 mg/dL is used in clinical settings, it's critical to be aware of its limitations. These issues have prompted the scientific community to call for a standardization of Lp(a) measurement and reporting. Until such standardization occurs, healthcare providers and researchers should be aware of these issues and carefully interpret Lp(a) values.


Khera AV, Everett BM, Caulfield MP, Hantash FM, Wohlgemuth J, Ridker PM, Mora S. Lipoprotein(a) concentrations, rosuvastatin therapy, and residual vascular risk: an analysis from the JUPITER Trial (Justification for the Use of Statins in Prevention: an Intervention Trial Evaluating Rosuvastatin). Circulation. 2014 Feb 11;129(6):635-42. doi: 10.1161

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Tag(s): Biomarkers

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