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Getting Tested: What to Expect When Getting Your Cholesterol Checked


Updated December 20, 2012

Cholesterol tests are a very simple way to test your blood for high cholesterol levels. While some important medical tests and procedures may be time consuming, a blood cholesterol test is probably the least time consuming and simple to perform. It doesn't require much from you, but knowing the results from such an easy-to-perform test can be life-saving.

Who Needs a Cholesterol Test?

Current guidelines suggest that anyone over the age of 20 should have a cholesterol test. If you have a strong family history of getting high cholesterol earlier in life, as in conditions like familial hypercholesterolemia, your healthcare provider may want to test you sooner than this.

Although these guidelines suggest that you should get your cholesterol checked at least once every five years, most healthcare providers will usually check your cholesterol at your annual checkup.

What Does a Cholesterol Test Look At?

A basic cholesterol test will usually look at four components:
  • Total cholesterol levels
  • Low density lipoproteins (LDL)
  • High density lipoproteins (HDL)
  • Triglycerides
Some cholesterol tests –- especially some home cholesterol tests –- will examine only total cholesterol tests, whereas there are other tests that examine more than just those four components. Knowing what your LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides levels are will allow your healthcare provider to determine your risk of heart disease and treat you appropriately.

The Cholesterol Test: What Should I Expect?

There isn't much you need to do before you prepare for a cholesterol test. The most important thing to do before you take a cholesterol test is to fast for at least 8 to 12 hours before your test. This will ensure that your cholesterol test is accurate, since foods –- especially fatty foods –- can influence the results of the test.

When you go to your appointment, blood will be drawn from your arm and sent to a laboratory where your cholesterol panel will be returned to your health care provider within one to three days. Depending on your results, your health care provider may request a follow-up visit to discuss the results. If your cholesterol is high, he or she may recommend a low-fat diet and lifestyle changes, or he or she may place you on a cholesterol-lowering drug.


Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (PDF), July 2004, The National Institutes of Heath: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

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