Cholesterol Test: What You Need To Know
A cholesterol test is also called a “lipid test” or “lipid profile”. Your doctor may use it to measure the amount of “good” and “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides (a type of fat) in your blood.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy fat that is needed for the body to function properly. However, too much cholesterol can lead to
- Heart disease
- Atherosclerosis, clogged arteries, and hardening of the arteries.
For men, regular cholesterol checks begin at age 35 and younger. For women, regular cholesterol checks should begin at age 45 or younger. To be on the safe side, have your cholesterol checked every 5 years starting at age 20. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or high blood pressure, or if you are taking medication to control your cholesterol levels, have your cholesterol checked annually.
Who is at risk for high cholesterol?
It is very important to control your cholesterol.
- Have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease
- Are overweight or obese
- Drinking alcohol
- Leading a very active lifestyle.
- Have diabetes, kidney disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, or a weak thyroid.
All of these factors can increase your risk of developing high cholesterol.
What does a cholesterol test measure?
A complete cholesterol test measures four types of fats or lipids in your blood
- Total cholesterol: This is the total amount of cholesterol in your blood.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: This is called the “bad” cholesterol. Too much can increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: This is known as the “good” cholesterol because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the blood.
- Triglycerides: When you eat, your body converts unwanted calories into triglycerides, which are stored in fat cells. If you are overweight, have diabetes, eat too many sweets, or drink too much alcohol, your triglycerides may be high.
Preparing for a cholesterol test
Your doctor may ask you to fast before having a cholesterol test. If you are just checking your total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels, you can start with one meal. However, if you are having a full-fat test, then you should avoid eating or drinking anything other than water for 9 to 12 hours before the test.
Before the test, tell your doctor.
- Any symptoms or health problems you are experiencing
- Your family’s history of heart health
- Any medications or supplements you are currently taking
If you are taking birth control pills or other medications that raise your cholesterol levels, your doctor may ask you to stop taking these medications a few days before the test.
How is a cholesterol test done?
To have your cholesterol levels checked, you will need to have a blood test done by your doctor. Your blood may be drawn in the morning, sometimes after you have fasted the day before.
The blood test is an outpatient procedure. It only takes a few minutes and is relatively painless. It is usually done in a diagnostic laboratory. It can also be done during a routine doctor’s visit, at a local pharmacy or at home. Outpatient costs range from $50 to $100. A cholesterol test at your local pharmacy can cost between $5 and $25. A home test may cost between $15 and $25, and tests that need to be sent to a lab cost between $75 and $200 on average.
There is little risk of having your blood drawn for a cholesterol test. You may feel slight weakness or have pain at the site where the blood sample was taken. There is also a low risk of infection at the puncture site.
What do the test results mean?
Your cholesterol level is measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. For most adults, the ideal result is .
- LDL: 70 to 130 mg/dL (the lower the number, the better).
- HDL: 40 to 60 mg/dL or higher (the higher the number, the better)
- Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL (the lower the number, the better)
- Triglycerides: 10-150 mg/dL (the lower the number, the better)
If your cholesterol levels are outside the normal range, you are more likely to develop heart disease, stroke and atherosclerosis. If your test results are abnormal, your doctor may order a blood glucose test to check for diabetes. Your doctor may also order a thyroid function test to determine if your thyroid is not active enough.
Can the test results be wrong?
The results of a cholesterol test can be wrong. For example, a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that calculating LDL cholesterol levels using common methods often produced inaccurate results.
A variety of factors such as inappropriate fasting, medications, and human error can lead to false-negative or false positive results, and testing HDL and LDL levels is generally more accurate than testing LDL levels alone.
Next Steps and Treatment
High cholesterol can be treated with lifestyle changes and medications. Lowering high LDL levels in the blood can help you avoid heart and blood vessel problems.
To help lower your cholesterol levels.
- Stop smoking and limit alcohol.
- Eat a balanced diet and avoid foods that are high in fat and sodium. Eat a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grain products, low-fat dairy products and lean protein sources.
- Exercise regularly. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and two strength training sessions per week.
Your doctor may prescribe a “therapeutic lifestyle change” or “TLC diet. As part of this diet, only 7% of your daily calories should come from saturated fat. You should also try to consume no more than 200 mg of cholesterol per day in your diet.
There are foods that can help the digestive tract absorb cholesterol. For example, your doctor may encourage you to eat more of them.
Obesity is also a risk factor for high cholesterol and heart disease. Your doctor can help you lose weight by reducing the number of calories in your diet and increasing physical activity.
You can also control your cholesterol by taking medications such as statins. These medications can help lower LDL levels.
Overall, high cholesterol is easy to manage. Ask your doctor to help you develop a treatment plan that you can maintain. This may include lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise. It may also include cholesterol-lowering medications. The more aggressive you are in making lifestyle changes and taking prescribed medications, the better the results will be.