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When Should I Suspect My Cholesterol Test Is Wrong?

Lab Errors in Cholesterol Tests Could Occur, But Are Rare

By Betsy Lee-Frye

Updated November 10, 2008

(LifeWire) - Question: How can I tell if my cholesterol test results are inaccurate?

Answer: Your cholesterol test results may not accurately reflect your body's general cholesterol situation for a number of reasons, including simple human error. According to the Clinical Practice Guidelines developed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, healthcare decisions should not be made until an individual has had two cholesterol tests. Between 1 and 8 weeks should separate each blood test. If the results of the two tests vary by 30 mg/dL or more, something may well be amiss and the tests should be repeated.

The most common underlying reason for surprising cholesterol lab results is a temporary change in your body's chemistry. Here are some examples of how and why your cholesterol results could temporarily be less than an accurate mirror of what is usually going on in your body:

  • A recent cardiac event, such as a heart attack or stroke, can temporarily lower lipid levels.
  • Surgeries and infections can also temporarily lower your cholesterol levels.
  • Certain medications, such as corticosteroids and estrogens, can raise your lipid levels. Ask your doctor for a full list of medications that might affect your test results. Make sure you are clear about how long you need to be off a given medication to ensure accurate results.
  • Pregnancy can increase cholesterol levels, so a cholesterol test should not be considered reliable until a woman is about 4 months postpartum.
  • If you are unable to fast for 12 hours prior to your cholesterol test, tell your doctor. And if you had a slip-up and consumed something prior to your test, let your doctor know. Food in your system can alter your cholesterol levels.
  • Alcohol consumption can also affect your test results. Most experts agree that you should avoid any alcoholic beverages for 24 hours prior to testing.
  • Human error can also affect your test. It's uncommon, but lab mistakes do happen.

If you suspect that your cholesterol results are inaccurate, don't hesitate to ask for a repeat test. Your cholesterol results are the key to determining your risk of heart attack or stroke, and it's important that you have the most accurate results.

Sources:

"Cholesterol Testing." hmc.psu.edu. 31 Oct. 2006. Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. 29 Oct. 2008. <http://www.hmc.psu.edu/healthinfo/c/cholesteroltesting.htm>.



"Obtain a Fasting Lipid Profile." oqp.med.va.gov. 2006. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. 29 Oct. 2008. <http://www.oqp.med.va.gov/cpg/DL/LIP_CPG/content/anns/anno_F.htm>.


LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Betsy Lee-Frye is an independent journalist living in Kansas City, Mo. Her work has appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Kansas City Magazine and Better Homes and Gardens Special Interest Publications.

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