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When to Have a Cholesterol Test


Topic Overview

Doctors use different guidelines to decide when a person should have a cholesterol test. Your doctor might suggest a test based on your age or your risk factors for heart disease.

Talk to your doctor about when a cholesterol test is right for you.

When should adults get tested?

Some health organizations recommend that everyone older than 20 be checked for high cholesterol.1

Other organizations recommend cholesterol tests based on age and risk factors for heart disease. For example, a test might be recommended for all teens and young adults ages 17 to 21 years. Or a test might be recommended for any adult who has strong risk factors for heart disease.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends cholesterol tests for:2

  • Men ages 35 and older.
  • Men ages 20 to 35 who have risk factors for heart disease.
  • Women ages 20 and older who have risk factors for heart disease.

How often should adults get tested?

How often you should get a cholesterol test depends on your cholesterol level, your other health problems, and your overall chance of heart disease.

The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), an expert group of doctors and scientists affiliated with the National Institutes of Health, recommends that all people older than age 20 have a cholesterol test every 5 years.1

An adult who is being treated for high cholesterol may need more frequent tests, depending on his or her cholesterol level and the type of treatment being used.

An adult who has coronary artery disease should have a cholesterol test at least once a year.

Most adults who have diabetes should be tested at least once a year.3

When should children get tested?

Your child's doctor may suggest a cholesterol test for your child or teen based on your child's age, family history, or a physical exam.4

For more information, see Cholesterol in Children and Teens.

Should I get a public cholesterol test?

Public cholesterol testing can be convenient and helpful. But most doctors will want to verify public test results. Because the doctor can evaluate risk factors and provide counseling, having your cholesterol level checked during a doctor visit is the preferred method.

The reliability of public cholesterol tests at health fairs, malls, drugstores, and other sites depends on many factors, including:

  • What kind of blood sample is used (finger stick or a sample drawn from a vein).
  • What type of equipment is used.
  • Whether the equipment is used properly.
  • How well the technicians have been trained.

You may wish to ask the technicians how much training they have had and how your blood sample will be handled.

More information

For more information, see:

1

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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