Navigate Up

Full Library - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Cholesterol testing

Cholesterol is a soft, wax-like substance found in all parts of the body. Your body needs a small amount of cholesterol. Too much cholesterol can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease , stroke, and other problems.

Click to download

Some types of cholesterol are considered "good" and some are considered "bad." Different blood tests are used to measure each type.

A coronary risk profile is a group of blood tests that measure your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The profile can help determine your risk for heart disease.

Alternative Names

Lipoprotein/ cholesterol analysis; Lipid profile; Lipid panel; Hyperlipidemia - testing; Cholesterol and triglyceride test; Coronary risk profile

How the Test is Performed

A blood sample is needed. Most of the time blood is drawn from a vein located on the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand.

You may only have your total cholesterol level measured as the first test. This may include measurement of your HDL cholesterol levels. You may not need more cholesterol tests if your cholesterol is in the normal range.

You may also have a lipid (or coronary risk) profile, which includes:

  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL or "bad" cholesterol)
  • High density lipoprotein (HDL or "good" cholesterol)
  • Total cholesterol
  • Triglycerides
  • Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL cholesterol, though this is often calculated from the triglyceride level)

People who also have high triglyceride levels may get a test called a direct VLDL cholesterol (direct VLDL-C).

Other blood tests, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), may be added to the profile in some labs.

How to Prepare for the Test

If you are having only a cholesterol level test, you may not be able to eat before the test.

If you are having a lipid profile, you should not eat or drink anything except water 9 to 12 hours before having your blood drawn.

How the Test will Feel

You may feel slight pain or a sting when the needle is inserted. You may also feel some throbbing at the site after the blood is drawn.

Blood test

Why the Test is Performed

Cholesterol blood tests help you and your doctor better understand your risk for heart disease, stroke, and other problems caused by blocked arteries.

Everyone should have their first screening test by age 35 for men, and age 45 for women. Some guidelines recommend starting at age 20.

People who have diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, or a strong family history of heart disease should have a cholesterol test done at an earlier age.

Follow-up testing should be done:

  • Every 5 years if your results were normal
  • More often for people with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, or blood flow problems to the legs or feet
  • More often if you are taking medications to control high cholesterol

Normal Results

The desired values in most healthy adults without risk factors for heart disease are:

  • LDL cholesterol: lower than 130 mg/dL
  • HDL cholesterol: greater than 40 to 60 mg/dL (higher numbers are desired)
  • Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL
  • Triglycerides: 10 to 150 mg/dL
  • VLDL: 2 to 30 mg/dL

The ideal values for you depend on whether you have heart disease, diabetes, or other risk factors.

Note: Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor about the meaning of your specific test results.

The examples above show the common measurements for results for these tests. Some laboratories use different measurements or may test different specimens.

What Abnormal Results Mean

Abnormal values may be a sign that you are at higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and other problems caused by blocked arteries caused by blocked arteries.

If you have diabetes, heart disease, or risk factors for heart disease, LDL cholesterol levels as low as 70 to 100 mg/dL can lower your risk for heart disease and related problems.

If your cholesterol is too high, you may need treatment to lower your cholesterol levels.

References

Gennest J, Libby P. Lipoprotein disorders and cardiovascular disease. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 47.

Stone NJ, Robinson J, Lichtenstein AH, Bairey Merz N, Lloyd-Jones DM, et al. 2013 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Treatment of Blood Cholesterol to Reduce Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Risk in Adults. JACC. In press.

American Diabetes Association. Standards of medical care in diabetes -- 2014. Diabetes Care. 2014;37 Suppl 1:S14-S80.

Updated: 5/5/2013

David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team. Editorial update: 05/14/14


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com