What to Expect When Getting Your Cholesterol Checked

blood draw
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A lipid panel is a simple test that is used to check cholesterol and triglyceride levels in your blood. These tests are commonly conducted in your healthcare provider's office, but can also be performed at various health screenings in your community and through home tests purchased at your pharmacy. A blood cholesterol test is probably the least time consuming and most simple to perform. It doesn't require much from you but a small sample of your blood, but knowing the results from such an easy-to-perform test can be life-saving.



Who Needs a Cholesterol Test?

Current guidelines from the American Heart Association recommend that anyone that is 20 years of age and older should have a cholesterol test. If you have a strong family history of being diagnosed with 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 four to six 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 office cholesterol tests not commonly conducted that go beyond measuring the above four components, and could include components such as oxidized LDL and apolipoprotein levels.

Knowing what your LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides levels are will allow your healthcare provider to determine your risk of heart disease.


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 test is accurate, since foods - especially fatty foods - can influence the results of some components of the test.

When you go to your appointment at your healthcare provider's office,  blood will be drawn from your arm and sent to a laboratory, where your results will be returned to your healthcare provider within one to three days.  If your cholesterol or triglyceride levels are not within a healthy range, your healthcare provider may recommend a low-fat diet and lifestyle changes, or he or she may place you on a cholesterol-lowering drug.



Dipiro JT, Talbert RL. Pharmacotherapy: A Pathophysiological Approach, 9th ed 2014.

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 Health: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

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