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
Total cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL
LDL (“bad”) cholesterol Less than 100 mg/dL
HDL (“good”) cholesterol 40 mg/dL or higher
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?

  • Adults who do not have heart disease may need their cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years. Some people need to get their cholesterol checked more often.2
  • Adults who have heart disease should talk to their health care team about how often to have their cholesterol checked.
  • All children and adolescents should have their cholesterol checked at least once between ages 9 and 11 and again between ages 17 and 21.3

Talk to your health care team about what’s best for you.

More Information

From CDC:

From Others:

References

  1. Stone NJ, Robinson J, Lichtenstein AH, et al. 2013 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Treatment of Blood Cholesterol to Reduce Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Risk in Adults: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice GuidelinesExternal. Circulation. 2013; 01.cir.0000437738.63853.7a.
  2. HealthFinder.gov. Get Your Cholesterol CheckedExternal. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2017. 3. American Academy of Pediatrics.
  3. Physicians Recommend All Children, Ages 9–11, Be Screened for CholesterolExternal. Washington, DC: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2011.