Test Details & Preparation
A total cholesterol (also called a lipid panel or lipid profile) test measures the amount of “good” and “bad” cholesterol and the level of triglycerides in your blood. Cholesterol is a soft, waxy fat that your body needs to function properly. However, too much cholesterol can lead to heart disease, stroke and atherosclerosis (a clogging or hardening of your arteries).
Doctors prefer that men should have their first cholesterol screening before age 35 and women before age 45. To stay on the safe side, you may even want to begin having your cholesterol tested every five years after age 20.
If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or high blood pressure, or if you are taking medication to control your cholesterol levels, you should have annual cholesterol tests regardless of your age.
A total cholesterol test is imperative if you have a family history of high cholesterol or heart disease, are overweight, consume alcohol frequently, lead an inactive lifestyle, indulge in smoking, or suffer from diabetes, kidney disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, or an underactive thyroid gland.
A blood sample is required to test for your cholesterol levels. Often, if you are only testing for HDL and total cholesterol, you may eat beforehand. If you are having a complete lipid profile done, you should not eat or drink anything other than water for nine to 12 hours before the test. If you take medication that could increase your cholesterol levels, such as birth control pills, your doctor may ask you to stop taking them a few days before the test.
The test is usually done in the morning, as you’ll probably have fasted since the night before.
If your cholesterol numbers are outside of the normal range, you may be at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and atherosclerosis. If your test results are abnormal, your doctor may also order a blood glucose test to check for diabetes. He or she may also order a thyroid function test to determine if your thyroid is underactive.
If you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, you can improve your test results by eating a low-fat diet, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking cigarettes and taking cholesterol-lowering medications.
This is a sum of your blood's cholesterol content. A high level can put you at increased risk of heart disease. Ideally, your total cholesterol should be below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or 5.2 mill moles per liter (mmol/L).