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High Cholesterol (cont.)

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 fasting cholesterol test is a more thorough test. It measures your total cholesterol plus your LDL, HDL, and triglyceride 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 High Cholesterol Treatment Guidelines Based on Heart Attack Risk.

To learn about the results and numbers for cholesterol tests, see the topic Cholesterol and Triglyceride Tests.

Total cholesterol

Your total cholesterol number shows if your cholesterol is too high.

Total cholesterol1
High240 or above
Borderline-high200 to 239
BestLess 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:

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 Interactive Tool: Are You at Risk for a Heart Attack?Click here to see an interactive tool.

Other tests

  • You may need other tests to find out if another health problem, such as hypothyroidism, is causing your high cholesterol.
  • A C-reactive protein (CRP) test may be done for some people who are at risk for getting coronary artery disease. 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 heart attack. 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:


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