Exams and Tests
A blood test tells you if you have high cholesterol.
- A simple cholesterol test can measure total cholesterol. You can eat before this test. Sometimes doctors do this test first.
- A Reference fasting cholesterol test is a more thorough test. It measures your total cholesterol plus your Reference LDL Opens New Window, Reference HDL Opens New Window, and Reference triglyceride Opens New Window levels. It is called a fasting test because you don't eat for 9 to 12 hours before the test.
- A direct LDL test measures your LDL level only. You can have this test done at any time, no matter when you last ate.
What do your cholesterol numbers mean?
Your numbers help your doctor know your risk of getting heart disease or having a heart attack or stroke.
Your total cholesterol level is important. But your levels of LDL, HDL, and triglycerides help your doctor decide if you need treatment for high cholesterol. Your doctor will also consider your overall health and your risk of heart attack. For more information, see the topic Reference High Cholesterol Treatment Guidelines Based on Heart Attack Risk.
To learn about the results and numbers for cholesterol tests, see the topic Reference Cholesterol and Triglyceride Tests.
Your total cholesterol number shows if your cholesterol is too high.
|High||240 or above|
|Borderline-high||200 to 239|
|Best||Less than 200|
If you have high cholesterol, your doctor will want to know your LDL and HDL levels before deciding whether you need treatment and what sort of treatment you need.
LDL (bad) cholesterol
You want your LDL level to be low. But how low your LDL should be depends on your risk of heart attack.
Your doctor will help decide what your LDL goal is. The higher your risk of heart attack, the lower your LDL goal.
HDL (good) cholesterol
You want your HDL level to be high. An HDL level of 60 or higher is linked to a lower risk of heart disease. A high HDL number also can help offset a high LDL number.
Your risk level
When you visit your doctor to talk about your cholesterol test, you will talk about other things that increase your risk for heart problems. These include:
- Reference Diabetes Opens New Window.
- Reference High blood pressure Opens New Window.
- A Reference family history Opens New Window of high cholesterol and heart attack.
If your risk is high, or if you already have heart problems, your doctor will be more likely to prescribe medicine along with lifestyle changes.
To find out your risk for a heart attack, see the Reference Interactive Tool: Are You at Risk for a Heart Attack? Reference
- You may need other tests to find out if another health problem, such as Reference hypothyroidism Opens New Window, is causing your high cholesterol.
- A Reference C-reactive protein (CRP) test may be done for some people who are at risk for getting Reference coronary artery disease Opens New Window. A special type of CRP test, the high-sensitivity CRP test, can help find out your chance of having a sudden heart problem, such as a Reference heart attack Opens New Window. This test may be done even if you have a normal or low level of LDL cholesterol.
When to have a cholesterol test
Most doctors recommend that everyone older than 20 be checked for high cholesterol. How often you need to be checked depends on whether you have other health problems and your overall chance of heart disease.
Your child's doctor may suggest a cholesterol test based on your child's age, family history, or a physical exam. A cholesterol test can help a doctor find out early if your child has a cholesterol level that could affect his or her health.
For more information, see:
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference June 29, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Reference Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
Reference Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology