Getting Your Cholesterol Checked

Man getting his blood drawn for a cholesterol screening test.

Many people have never had their cholesterol checked, so they don’t know whether they are at risk.

High cholesterol usually has no signs or symptoms.

The only way to know whether you have high cholesterol is to get your cholesterol checked. Your health care team can do a simple blood test, called a “lipid profile,” to measure your cholesterol levels.

What Happens During a Cholesterol Test?

The cholesterol test, or screening, requires a simple blood draw. You may need to fast (not eat or drink) for 8 to 12 hours before your cholesterol test. Be sure to ask your doctor how to prepare for the test.

The cholesterol test checks your levels of:

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol. Having high levels of LDL cholesterol can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries and result in heart disease or stroke.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol because high levels can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood that your body uses for energy. The combination of high levels of triglycerides with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol levels can increase your risk for heart attack and stroke.
  • Total cholesterol, the total amount of cholesterol in your blood based on your HDL, LDL, and triglycerides numbers.

Learn more about LDL and HDL cholesterol.

What Do the Numbers Mean?

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

Desirable Cholesterol Levels1,2
Total cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL
LDL (“bad”) cholesterol Less than 100 mg/dL
HDL (“good”) cholesterol Greater than or equal to 60 mg/dL
Triglycerides Less than 150 mg/dL

Your cholesterol numbers are important, but they are just part of your overall health. Your doctor will look at your cholesterol numbers, along with your family history, age, gender, and other parts of your lifestyle or health, such as smoking, that could raise your risk for high cholesterol.

This complete picture helps your doctor determine whether you should take steps, such as lifestyle changes or cholesterol-lowering medicine, to lower your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Who Needs to Get Their Cholesterol Checked?

  • Most healthy adults should have their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years.
  • Some people, such as people who have heart disease or diabetes or who have a family history of high cholesterol, need to get their cholesterol checked more often.3
  • Children and adolescents should have their cholesterol checked at least once between ages 9 and 11 and again between ages 17 and 21.1

Talk to your health care team about your health history and how often you need to have your cholesterol checked.

More Information

From CDC:

From Others:

References

  1. Grundy SM, Stone NJ, Bailey AL, Beam C, Birtcher KK, Blumenthal RS, et al. 2018 ACC/AHA/AACVPR/AAPA/ ABC/ACPM/ADA/AGS/APhA/ASPC/NLA/PCNA guideline on the management of blood cholesterol: a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice GuidelinesExternal. Circulation. 2018;0:CIR.0000000000000625.
  2. National Cholesterol Education Program. Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) Final ReportCdc-pdfExternal[PDF-1M]. NIH Pub. No. 02-5215. Bethesda, MD: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; 2002.
  3. HealthFinder.gov. Get Your Cholesterol CheckedExternal. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.