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Cholesterol Test

What Is Cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fatlike substance that is naturally present in the body, and is an important part of the body's function. The body uses cholesterol to produce many hormones including vitamin D and the bile acids that help to digest fat. The body requires only small amounts of cholesterol to function normally, and excess amounts may be deposited in artery walls throughout the body. This can lead to narrowing of the coronary arteries in the heart, causing angina and heart attack; narrowing in the carotid arteries that supply the brain, causing stroke; and narrowing of the femoral arteries supplying the legs, causing peripheral artery disease.

What Is a Cholesterol Test?

Fasting blood tests can measure cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. This test, also called a lipoprotein profile or lipoprotein analysis, measures:

  • Total cholesterol (the total amount of cholesterol in your blood)
  • HDL, high density lipoprotein (good cholesterol)
  • LDL, low density lipoprotein (bad cholesterol)
  • Triglycerides, another fatty substance found in the body.
  • Blood cholesterol measurements can be used to help minimize the risk of stroke, heart attack, and peripheral artery disease. The cholesterol level is one of the many risk factors that can be controlled.

Blood cholesterol measurements can be used to help minimize the risk of stroke, heart attack, and peripheral artery disease. Blood cholesterol levels is one of the many risk factors that can be controlled, in addition to high blood pressure, smoking and being overweight.

Do You Have to Fast Before a Cholesterol Test?

Patient Comments

Yes. fasting allows proper interpretation of blood lipid levels. You will be instructed to not eat or drink anything (except for water) for 14 hours before the blood is drawn. You should not drink alcohol for 48 hours prior to the test.

How Long Do You Have to Fast Before a Cholesterol Test?

  • You will be instructed to not eat or drink anything (except for water) for 14 hours before the blood is drawn.
  • You should not drink alcohol for 48 hours prior to the test.

Can I Drink Coffee the Morning of the Cholesterol Test?

No. Unfortunately for coffee lovers, drinking coffee (or any liquid) is not allowed prior to a cholesterol test.

Do They Draw Blood for a Cholesterol Test?

During this procedure, a blood sample will be taken from a vein in your arm. To do so, a tourniquet (an elastic band) is tied around your arm just above the elbow. A needle is then inserted into a vein in your arm near the inside of your elbow. Once the needle is positioned, a small amount of blood is withdrawn and collected in a vial or a syringe. After the blood is collected, the needle is removed from the vein, and the tourniquet is removed from your arm. A small cotton ball is pressed over the puncture site to stop any bleeding. A Band-Aid may be placed to protect clothing should a small amount of blood leak out of the puncture site.

How long does a cholesterol take?

Having blood tests drawn takes only a few minutes.

Does a cholesterol test hurt?

Blood tests cause a minimal amount of discomfort. Some people do have anxiety about having blood drawn and it may be worse than the pain of the procedure.

Can I Eat After a Cholesterol Test?

Routine diet may be resumed after the blood test is done. Your health-care professional may discuss resuming any medication that had been withheld prior to the blood test.

What Do the Results of a Cholesterol Blood Test Mean (How to Read Your Results)?

Interpretation of cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood are based upon guidelines from a variety of medical organizations including the American Heart Association.

Total cholesterol
Less than 200 mg/dL: desirable
200-239 mg/dL: borderline high risk
240 and over: high risk

HDL (high density lipoprotein)
Less than 40 mg/dL (men), less than 50 mg/dL (women): increased risk of heart disease
Greater than 60mg/dL: some protection against heart disease

LDL (low density lipoprotein)
Less than 100 mg/dL: optimal
100-129 mg/dL: near optimal/above optimal
130-159 mg/dL: borderline high
160- 189 mg/dL: high
190 mg/dL and above: very high

Triglycerides
Less than 150 mg/dL: normal
150-199 mg/dL: borderline to high
200-499mg/dL: high
Above 500 mg/dL: very high

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/12/2016

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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Cholesterol Test:

Cholesterol Test - Experience

Please describe your experience with having a cholesterol test.

Cholesterol Test - Fasting

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Cholesterol Test - Charts and Levels

Are your cholesterol levels high? If so, how is it being treated?

Cholesterol Test - Risks

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How to Lower Your Cholesterol with Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can let you take control of your heart health, and managing your cholesterol level is one such important lifestyle change.

  • The American Heart Association suggests that fats should represent no more than 30% of total calories you consume in a day, but 25% or 20% is even better. Most of the fats in the diet should be unsaturated.
  • Regular aerobic exercise helps lower cholesterol levels as well as control high blood pressure, diabetes, and body weight.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Cholesterol Embolism »

Cholesterol embolism syndrome should be suspected in a patient who develops worsening renal function, hypertension, distal ischemia, or acute multisystem dysfunction after an invasive arterial procedure.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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