Cholesterol plays a major role in a person's heart health. High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for coronary heart disease and stroke. That's why it's important to know your cholesterol levels. You should also learn about other risk factors for heart disease and stroke.How is cholesterol tested?
A cholesterol screening measures your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides. A small sample of blood will be drawn from your arm. If your doctor orders other tests to be run at the same time as your cholesterol test, all the samples are usually taken at the same time. Your blood sample is then analyzed in a laboratory.
Your doctor will tell you if you should fast (avoid consuming food, beverages and medications, usually for nine to 12 hours) before your blood test. If you aren't fasting when the blood sample is drawn, only the values for total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol will be usable. That's because the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol level and triglycerides can be affected by what you've recently consumed.
Your test report will show your cholesterol level in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). Your doctor will interpret your cholesterol numbers based on other risk factors such as age, family history, smoking and high blood pressure.
How often should I have my cholesterol checked?
If you are age 20 or older and have not been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, the American Heart Association recommends having your cholesterol levels checked every four to six years as part of a cardiovascular risk assessment.
You may need to have your cholesterol and other risk factors assessed more often if your risk is elevated.
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about what your results mean and discuss appropriate treatment options based on your cardiovascular risk and overall health.
Where should I have my cholesterol checked?
It's best to have your primary care doctor run your cholesterol test. Other risk factors such as your age, family history smoking history and blood pressure must be considered when interpreting your results and your primary care doctor is most likely to have all that information. Once you know your numbers, your doctor can recommend a treatment and prevention plan, as well as follow-up testing.
If you have your cholesterol checked at public screenings, make sure a reputable company does the screening. Remember that your cholesterol level is just part of your overall cardiovascular risk profile, and your other risk factors must be considered. You should share the screening results with your healthcare professional so your tests can be properly interpreted, and an appropriate treatment and prevention plan developed.
The American Heart Association hasn't taken a position on cholesterol home testing devices. Several devices are on the market. Some measure only total cholesterol. Others measure total cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol. One measures LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats).
This content was last reviewed on 04/16/2014.