Getting Your Cholesterol Checked
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.
What Do the Numbers Mean?
Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
|Total cholesterol||About 150 mg/dL|
|LDL (“bad”) cholesterol||About 100 mg/dL|
|HDL (“good”) cholesterol||Greater than or equal to 40 mg/dL in men and 50 mg/dL in women|
|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.
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.2
- 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.
- Cholesterol—American Heart Association
- What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean—American Heart Association
- High Blood Cholesterol: What You Need to Know—National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- Grundy SM, Stone NJ, Bailey AL, Beam C, Birtcher KK, Blumenthal RS, et al. 2018 AHA/ACC/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/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2019;139(25):e1082–e1143.
- HealthFinder.gov. Get Your Cholesterol Checked. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; 2018.