Cholesterol tests

Cholesterol testing and results

Cholesterol tests

Cholesterol test results; LDL test results; VLDL test results; HDL test results; Coronary risk profile results; Hyperlipidemia-results; Lipid disorder test results; Heart disease – cholesterol results

Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance that is present in all parts of the body including the nervous system, skin, muscle, liver, intestines, and heart. It is made by the body and obtained from animal products in the diet.

Cholesterol is manufactured in the liver and is needed for normal body functions including the production of hormones, bile acid, and Vitamin D. Excessive cholesterol in the blood contributes to atherosclerosis and subsequent heart disease.

The risk of developing heart disease or atherosclerosis increases as the level of blood cholesterol increases.

Some cholesterol is considered good and some is considered bad. Different blood tests can be done to measure each type of cholesterol.

Your provider may order only a total cholesterol level as the first test. It measures all types of cholesterol in your blood.

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

  • Total cholesterol
  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol)
  • High density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol)
  • Triglycerides (another type of fat in your blood)
  • Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL cholesterol)

Lipoproteins are made of fat and protein. They carry cholesterol, triglycerides, and other fats, called lipids, in the blood to various parts of the body.

Lifestyle changes and lipid-lowering medicines can be key factors to help fight hyperlipidemia.

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

You should have a cholesterol test done at an earlier age if you have:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • A strong family history of heart disease

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.
  • Every year or so if you are taking medicines to control high cholesterol.

A total cholesterol of 180 to 200 mg/dL (10 to 11.1 mmol/l) or less is considered best.

You may not need more cholesterol tests if your cholesterol is in this normal range.

LDL cholesterol is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol. LDL can clog your arteries.

You want your LDL to be low. Too much LDL is linked to heart disease and stroke.

Your LDL is most often considered to be too high if it is 190 mg/dL or higher.

Levels between 70 and 189 mg/dL (3.9 and 10.5 mmol/l) are most often considered too high if:

  • You have diabetes and are between ages 40 and 75
  • You have diabetes and a high risk of heart disease
  • You have a medium or high risk of heart disease
  • You have heart disease, history of a stroke, or poor circulation to your legs

Health care providers have traditionally set a target level for your LDL cholesterol if you are being treated with medicines to lower your cholesterol.

  • Some newer guidelines now suggest that providers no longer need to target a specific number for your LDL cholesterol. Higher strength medicines are used for the highest risk patients.
  • However, some guidelines still recommend using specific targets.

You want your HDL cholesterol to be high. Studies of both men and women have shown that the higher your HDL, the lower your risk of coronary artery disease. This is why HDL is sometimes referred to as “good” cholesterol.

HDL cholesterol levels greater than 40 to 60 mg/dL (2.2 to 3.3 mmol/l) are desired.

VLDL contains the highest amount of triglycerides. VLDL is considered a type of bad cholesterol, because it helps cholesterol build up on the walls of arteries.

Normal VLDL levels are from 2 to 30 mg/dL (0.1 to 1.7 mmol/l).

Sometimes, your cholesterol levels may be low enough that your provider will not ask you to change your diet or take any medicines.

American Diabetes Association. 10. Cardiovascular disease and risk management: standards of medical care in diabetes-2020. Diabetes Care. 2020;43(Suppl 1):S111-S134. PMID: 31862753

Fox CS, Golden SH, Anderson C, et al. Update on prevention of cardiovascular disease in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus in light of recent evidence: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Circulation. 2015;132(8):691-718. PMID: 26246173

Gennest J, Libby P. Lipoprotein disorders and cardiovascular disease. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 48.

Grundy SM, Stone NJ, Bailey AL, et al. 2018 AHA/ACC/AACVPR/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/ADA/AGS/APhA/ASPC/NLA/PCNA Guideline on the management of blood cholesterol: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2019;73(24):e285-e350.2018. PMID: 30423393

Rohatgi A. Lipid measurement. In: de Lemos JA, Omland T, eds. Chronic Coronary Artery Disease: A Companion to Braunwald's Heart Disease. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 8.

Last reviewed on: 1/27/2020

Reviewed by: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


New guidelines simplify cholesterol tests: no fasting needed

Cholesterol tests

I’m supposed to have my cholesterol checked soon. It’s a simple test, but I’m not looking forward to it since it requires fasting overnight. And that means making a special early-morning trip to my doctor’s office.

But new international guidelines say it’s OK — even preferred — to skip the overnight fast.

To learn more about this small but oh-so-useful shift, I talked with cardiologist Dr. Samia Mora. She helped write the new guidelines, which were published this week in the European Heart Journal and summarized in JAMA Internal Medicine. Mora is director of the Center for Lipid Metabolomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.


What was the point of fasting before having a cholesterol test?

Not eating for eight to 12 hours before having blood drawn for a cholesterol test was thought to give a more accurate assessment of total cholesterol, harmful LDL cholesterol, protective HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, a type of fat-carrying particle. We now know better.

One problem with fasting is that we spend most of the day in the nonfasting state, so the way cholesterol tests are currently done doesn’t necessarily give a clear picture of “normal” levels. Another is that fasting is a hassle for everyone concerned — patients, clinicians, and even lab workers.


What’s behind the new recommendation?

This change has been coming for some time. It is driven by data from a dozen-plus studies that include more than 300,000 people whose cholesterol and other lipids were measured when they hadn’t fasted. Their levels predicted cardiovascular risk, as well as, or possibly better than, fasting lipid levels.

Nonfasting levels might be better?

After you eat, your digestive system converts some of the carbohydrates and fats into triglycerides. Their level in the bloodstream rises, then gradually falls. If the triglyceride level rises too much, it’s a signal that the body has trouble metabolizing food. Think of eating as a stress test for metabolism. That’s something you can’t see if you’ve been fasting.

What does this shift mean?

Everyone wins with this change. People don’t to fast overnight. Some find it difficult to do, others are even harmed by it, such as those who faint from fasting and people with diabetes who take medications to lower blood sugar. The new recommendation means you can have your blood drawn when it’s most convenient for you, rather than early in the day.

It may even mean one-stop shopping — you can have your blood drawn and then see your doctor, all in the same visit.

It’s easier for clinicians, who don’t have to keep track of patients’ special lab visits.

Eliminating the fasting requirement will benefit labs, too, since they won’t have to deal with the daily crush of patients first thing in the morning needing blood draws for cholesterol checks.

Does what you eat before the test matter?

Consuming a double cheeseburger, fries, and a milk shake right before having your blood drawn for a cholesterol test may lead to a follow-up fasting test if the triglycerides are very high. But eating normally has little effect on your lipid levels, including triglycerides.

Will this recommendation catch on in the United States?

Health care providers often do what they are used to doing, so it may take a while for some to change to nonfasting cholesterol tests.

But we also need to realize that there are advantages to this evidence-based change. Switching to nonfasting cholesterol testing is actually the path of least resistance for patients and clinicians.

It also provides a more accurate lipid profile for individual patients.

I believe that getting the word out to clinicians, lab directors, and patients will be enough to make the switch to nonfasting cholesterol tests in a fairly short time.


Making sense of cholesterol tests

Cholesterol tests

Time to get your cholesterol checked. Okay, but which test should you get? It's not so simple anymore. Here is a rundown of some of the choices and their pros and cons:

Total cholesterol. This is the simplest and least expensive test. The test doesn't require any sophisticated lab work, either. The simple, do-it-yourself home cholesterol tests measure total cholesterol.

But total cholesterol includes both “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, and the “bad” varieties, chiefly low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL).

So, if your total cholesterol is in the desirable category, it's possible that you may have unhealthy levels of HDL (too low) and LDL and VLDL (too high). Think of total cholesterol as a first glimpse, a peek.

Doctors are not supposed to make any treatment decisions this number alone.

Cholesterol levels can be lowered by stress (physical or psychological) or infection. An injury, cancer, stroke, or heart attack may have the same effect. So, if your cholesterol levels are unusually high or low, your doctor will probably want to repeat the test some weeks later. Abnormal readings may also lead to tests for other medical problems.

HDL cholesterol. HDL wins its laurels as the “good” cholesterol because it sponges up cholesterol from blood vessel walls and ferries it to the liver for disposal. In contrast, LDL deposits the harmful fat in vessel walls.

An HDL level of 60 or above is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, and below 40 is associated with a higher risk.

  • Makes up 20%–30% of total cholesterol
  • The “good” cholesterol
  • Moves cholesterol from arteries to the liver.
  • Makes up 60%–70% of total cholesterol
  • Main form of “bad” cholesterol
  • Causes build-up of plaque inside arteries.
  • Makes up 10%–15% of total cholesterol
  • With LDL, the main form of “bad” cholesterol
  • A precursor of LDL.

LDL cholesterol. The LDL measurement is usually considered the most important for assessing risk and deciding on treatment. The definition of a healthy level keeps on getting lower.

For people at low risk of heart disease, an LDL of less than 100 is desirable, However, people at higher risk of heart disease, an LDL of less than 70 or perhaps even lower is considered “optimal.

” Some experts say that an LDL of less than 70 would be a healthy LDL goal for all of us.

Your LDL is computed by plugging the measurements for total cholesterol, HDL, and triglycerides into a: LDL = Total cholesterol – HDL – (Triglycerides ÷ 5). LDL can also be measured directly in a non-fasting blood sample.

You have to fast for about 10 hours before the test because triglyceride levels can shoot up 20%–30% after a meal, which would throw off the equation. Alcohol also causes a triglyceride surge, so you shouldn't drink alcohol for 24 hours before a fasting cholesterol test.

The numbers to know
Test Generally desirable level
Total cholesterol under 200 mg/dL
LDL (bad) cholesterol under 100 mg/dL
HDL (good) cholesterol over 60 mg/dL
Triglycerides under 150 mg/dL

C-reactive protein (CRP) is a protein in the blood that increases with inflammation.

Because atherosclerosis is fundamentally an inflammatory process, many experts believe that CRP testing could lead to early detection and therefore save lives.

The American Heart Association says CRP tests are most helpful for people at intermediate risk for heart disease, but not those at the low and high ends of the risk spectrum.

You should get a fasting cholesterol test at least once every five years for everyone beginning at age 20. A fasting cholesterol test gives you the important numbers: total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol, as well as triglyceride levels.

For more information, read “11 foods that lower cholesterol.”

Image: blueshot/Getty Images

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Understanding Your Cholesterol Test Results

Cholesterol tests

Your health care provider may send you for cholesterol tests, either as a part of a standard check-up or because he or she suspects you may be at risk for developing heart disease. But do you know what the cholesterol test results actually mean? Read on to learn how to interpret the numbers.

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat- substance. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. But you take in more cholesterol from certain foods, such as those from animals.

If you have too much cholesterol in your body, it can build up in the walls of your arteries (as “plaque”) and eventually harden.

This process, called atherosclerosis, actually narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to travel through the vessels. 

Unfortunately, high cholesterol doesn't cause symptoms. In later stages of atherosclerosis, though, you may suffer angina — severe chest pain from lack of blood flow to the heart. If an artery gets totally blocked, a heart attack results. A routine blood cholesterol test is a far better way of finding out what your cholesterol level is.

In addition to measuring the total cholesterol in your blood, the standard cholesterol test (called a “lipid panel”) measures three specific kinds of fat:

  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL). This is the “bad cholesterol,” the main cause of plaque build-up, which increases your risk for heart disease. In general, the lower the number, the better. But LDL cholesterol is only one part of a larger equation that measures a person’s overall risk of having a heart attack or stroke. For years, guidelines focused on specific target numbers for individuals to achieve to lower their risk. The most recent guidelines focus on a person’s overall risk and, that risk, recommend a certain percentage of LDL reduction as one part of a strategy for preventing serious heart and vascular problems.
  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL). This is the “good cholesterol.” It transports bad cholesterol from the blood to the liver, where it is excreted by the body. Your HDL is another part of the equation that identifies the risk of a cardiovascular event. In general, the higher the number the better, although, as with LDL, the emphasis has shifted from specific target numbers to strategies for reducing the overall risk.
  • Triglycerides. Another type of fat in the bloodstream, triglycerides are also linked to heart disease. They are stored in fat cells throughout the body.

If you have a lipoprotein profile, it's important to look at all the numbers from the cholesterol test, not just the total cholesterol number.

That's because LDL and HDL levels are two primary indicators of potential heart disease. Use the information below to interpret your results (with the help of your doctor, of course).

This will help you get a better idea about your risk for heart disease.

Total blood cholesterol level:

  • High risk: 240 mg/dL and above
  • Borderline high risk: 200-239 mg/dL
  • Desirable: Less than 200 mg/dL

LDL cholesterol levels:

190 mg/dL and above represents a high risk for heart disease and is a strong indicator that the individual can benefit from intensive treatment, including life style changes, diet, and statin therapy for reducing that risk.

For LDL levels that are equal to or less than 189 mg/dL, the guidelines recommend strategies for lowering LDL by 30% to 50% depending on what other risk factors you have that can affect the health of your heart and blood vessels.

HDL cholesterol:

  • High risk: Less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women


  • Very high risk: 500 mg/dL and above
  • High risk: 200-499 mg/dL
  • Borderline high risk: 150-199 mg/dL
  • Normal: Less than 150 mg/dL

If your doctor recommends a “non-fasting” cholesterol test, the lab will look only at your total cholesterol (and sometimes your HDL) numbers. For that test, you merely need to show up at the lab and have some blood drawn.

If your doctor suggests a “fasting” cholesterol test (also called a “lipid profile”), the lab will analyze your levels of LDL, HDL, triglycerides, and total cholesterol.

For that test, you will need to fast nine to 12 hours before the blood test.

Sometimes a doctor will ask you to do a non-fasting cholesterol test first. Depending on the results, he or she may then send you back for the more complete lipid profile.

After reviewing your blood test, The doctor will also consider other risk factors you might have for heart disease, including:

Then, your doctor will talk with you about your level of risk and the potential benefit to be derived by taking steps that include changes in your level of activity and diet as well as using medication to improve your cholesterol levels in order to reduce your overall risk.

The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends adults age 20 years or older have a cholesterol test every five years. People who are at risk for heart attack or heart disease or who have a family history of either should be checked more often.


Journal of the American College of Cardiology (2013): “2013 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Treatment of Blood Cholesterol to Reduce Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Risk in Adults.”

CDC: “Cholesterol Fact Sheet.”

WebMD Medical Reference provided in collaboration with The Cleveland Clinic: “Understanding Cholesterol Numbers” and “High Cholesterol: Cholesterol Basics.” 

American Heart Association: “What Are Healthy Levels of Cholesterol?”

© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


Cholesterol Tests

Cholesterol tests

High cholesterol is a very common health issue that has a number of causes and risk factors, including genetics, an unhealthy diet, overweight or a large waist circumference, a lack of exercise, smoking and diabetes.

High cholesterol is often treatable and manageable with medications and lifestyle changes. Home cholesterol tests allow you to check your cholesterol level between doctor visits.

Walgreens can help you easily purchase home cholesterol tests to keep track of your numbers.

Understanding Cholesterol Readings

Cholesterol is a fat- substance thatu0019s found in the cells of the body. There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).

Excessive levels of LDL or “bad cholesterol” can lead to a buildup of fatty deposits or plaque in your blood vessels that can accumulate and create blockages. A blockage can restrict blood flow, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

HDL or “good cholesterol” helps to protect the cardiovascular system by carrying away excess LDL, which can help keep your arteries open. Typically, treatment for high cholesterol focuses on lowering LDL and raising HDL levels.

Triglycerides, another type of blood fat, are sometimes measured with cholesterol. Your body converts excess calories you eat into triglycerides, and stores them in fat cells. Your doctor can provide you with guidelines regarding what your target cholesterol readings should be.

Reasons to Test at Home

People who are concerned that they may have high cholesterol may wish to perform a test to find out if they need to see a doctor.

Individuals may also wish to periodically test to see what their cholesterol is between checkups with their doctor. Keep in mind that it is not a good idea to try and treat high cholesterol on your own.

If you perform a test and find out that you have elevated cholesterol levels, itu0019s important to consult a medical professional.

Home Cholesterol Tests

Testing your cholesterol at home typically requires a sample of blood that is obtained by pricking your finger. With most tests, you place the collected blood on a special strip. The strip is then packaged and mailed to a laboratory for analysis.

Results are typically available online, over the phone or through the mail. With other home cholesterol kits, you simply watch what color the test strip turns after you place a blood sample on it. The test strips have special chemicals that change color after a few minutes depending on your cholesterol level.

Youu0019ll match the color of the strip against a guide that comes with the test kit. The color will tell you how much cholesterol was in the droplet of blood. Other home cholesterol kits come with an electronic meter similar to a blood glucose monitor used by people with diabetes.

You insert the test strip into the meter, where a small computer measures your cholesterol and displays the reading.

Ensuring Accurate Results

No home cholesterol test can provide accurate results if used improperly. That is why it's important to carefully read the directions provided with the testing kit. Following those instructions will help to ensure that the results you receive are as reliable as possible. Your doctor can help you decide which type of home cholesterol test is best for your needs.


Cholesterol Levels: MedlinePlus Lab Test Information

Cholesterol tests
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Cholesterol is a waxy, fat- substance that's found in your blood and every cell of your body. You need some cholesterol to keep your cells and organs healthy.

Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. But you can also get cholesterol from the foods you eat, especially meat, eggs, poultry, and dairy products. Foods that are high in dietary fat can also make your liver produce more cholesterol.

There are two main types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good” cholesterol. A cholesterol test is a blood test that measures the amount of each type of cholesterol and certain fats in your blood.

Too much LDL cholesterol in your blood may put you at risk for heart disease and other serious conditions.

High LDL levels can cause the build-up of plaque, a fatty substance that narrows the arteries and blocks blood from flowing normally. When blood flow to the heart is blocked, it can cause a heart attack.

When blood flow to the brain is blocked, it can lead to stroke and peripheral artery disease.

Other names for a cholesterol test: Lipid profile, Lipid panel

If you have high cholesterol, you may not experience any symptoms at all, but you could be at significant risk for heart disease. A cholesterol test can give your health care provider important information about the cholesterol levels in your blood. The test measures:

  • LDL levels. Also known as the “bad” cholesterol, LDL is the main source of blockages in the arteries.
  • HDL levels. Considered the “good” cholesterol, HDL helps get rid of “bad” LDL cholesterol.
  • Total cholesterol. The combined amount of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol in your blood.
  • Triglycerides A type of fat found in your blood. According to some studies, high levels of triglycerides may increase the risk of heart disease, especially in women.
  • VLDL levels. Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) is another type of “bad” cholesterol. Development of plaque on the arteries has been linked to high VLDL levels. It's not easy to measure VLDL, so most of the time these levels are estimated triglyceride measurements.

Your doctor may order a cholesterol test as part of a routine exam, or if you have a family history of heart disease or one or more of the following risk factors:

Your age may also be a factor, because your risk for heart disease increases as you get older.

A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.

Cholesterol tests are usually done in the morning, as you may be asked to refrain from eating for several hours prior to the test.

You may also be able to use an at-home kit to test for cholesterol. While instructions may vary between brands, your kit will include some kind of device to prick your finger. You’ll use this device to collect a drop of blood for testing. Be sure to follow the kit instructions carefully.

Also, be sure to tell your health care provider if your at-home test results shown your cholesterol level is higher than 200 mg/dl.

You may need to fast–no food or drink–for 9 to 12 hours before your blood is drawn. Your health care provider will let you know if you need to fast and if there are any special instructions to follow.

There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.

Cholesterol is usually measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. The information below shows how the different types of cholesterol measurements are categorized.

A healthy cholesterol range for you may depend on your age, family history, lifestyle, and other risk factors. In general, low LDL levels and high HDL cholesterol levels are good for heart health. High levels of triglycerides may also put you at risk for heart disease.

The LDL on your results may say “calculated” which means it includes a calculation of total cholesterol, HDL, and triglycerides. Your LDL level may also be measured “directly,” without using other measurements. Regardless, you want your LDL number to be low.

High cholesterol can lead to heart disease, the number one cause of death in the United States. While some risk factors for cholesterol, such as age and heredity, are beyond your control, there are actions you can take to lower your LDL levels and reduce your risk, including:

  • Eating a healthy diet. Reducing or avoiding foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol can help reduce the cholesterol levels in your blood.
  • Losing weight. Being overweight can increase your cholesterol and risk for heart disease.
  • Staying active. Regular exercise may help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raise your HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It may also help you lose weight.

Talk to your health care provider before making any major change in your diet or exercise routine.

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Cholesterol Test Results & How to Read Them

Cholesterol tests

  • Cholesterol is a naturally occurring substance in the body that is an important part of normal body function.
  • Cholesterol has two main types: HDL, or good cholesterol, that protects against heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular disease; and LD, or bad, cholesterol, which increases the risk of these conditions.
  • Cholesterol tests measure total cholesterol as well as HDL and LDL levels in the blood. Triglycerides, another type of fat present in the bloodstream, may also be measured.
  • Cholesterol tests are usually ordered and blood drawn in a doctor's office. There are also home test kits available. It is important to be fasting for the tests to be accurate. Typically, a fasting test is performed first thing in the morning before the individual has eaten anything for the day. Fasting typically requires 12 hours without food. Water, plain tea or coffee are permitted, and hydration is required. No other liquids are acceptable during the fasting period. Patients cannot add sugar, artificial sweeteners, cream, or milk to drinks.
  • If you take OTC, prescription, or herbal supplements discuss these with your doctor prior to the test.
  • Cholesterol test results should be discussed with the health-care professional to determine if treatment of high cholesterol is necessary to decrease the risk of heart disease and stroke.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a naturally occurring fat that the body needs to produce important structures and chemicals. It is one of the main components of cell membranes, the outer lining that protects the internal structures that make body cells work and function properly.

Cholesterol is also a building block for many of the hormones in the body including mineralocorticoids that control electrolyte levels in the body, glucocorticoids involved in carbohydrate metabolism, and sex hormones including testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone.

Cholesterol is one of the building blocks that assists in forming vitamin D in the body. Vitamin D is responsible for calcium metabolism in the body.

There are two important types of cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL) and low density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL is the bad cholesterol that deposits in arteries when too much is present. HDL is considered the good cholesterol because it can bind to LDL cholesterol and return it to the liver where it can be removed from the body.

While most of the cholesterol in the body is obtained through the foods we eat, it is also produced in the liver to meet the body's demands.

The body attempts to regulate the amount of total cholesterol, but when too much cholesterol is present, the excess can be deposited in arteries throughout the body.

This leads to artery narrowing and increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. Elevated LDL levels increase the risk of these diseases, and elevated HDL levels decrease the risk.

What does a cholesterol test measure?

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Cholesterol tests are blood tests that measure the amount of cholesterol in the body. The health-care professional may order only a cholesterol test with results showing:

  1. The total cholesterol,
  2. HDL, and
  3. LDL levels.

In addition to cholesterol level, the health-care professional also may order a lipid profile test.  The lipid profile test will also measure triglyceride levels and another fatty substance found in the blood.

How do I prepare for a cholesterol test?

For the best and most accurate results, it is important to fast for many hours before the cholesterol blood test is taken. Each laboratory has its own guidelines for not eating, and the fast may range from 9-16 hours. It is acceptable to drink water.

Do I need to call my doctor for my test results?

It usually takes a day or two from the time the blood is drawn until your health-care professional receives the results of the cholesterol test.

Ideally, the health-care professional will contact you with those results and explain their significance.

However, if you have not been contacted in a short period of time, it is reasonable to contact your health-care professional and ask for the test results.

There are home cholesterol test kits available that have been U.S. FDA approved, but their accuracy is not necessarily as good as that of a certified laboratory. These tests usually measure total cholesterol only, but some also can measure HDL, LDL and cholesterol. If you use one of the home kits, it is wise to discuss the results with your health-care professional.

The purpose of the cholesterol blood test is to determine whether treatment is needed for high cholesterol. That treatment may include dietary and lifestyle modifications, medications, or both to control cholesterol levels and decrease the risk of heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.

What is cholesterol? See Answer

How do I interpret my cholesterol test results?

Cholesterol levels are but one of the risk factors for heart disease, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease. It is important to control cholesterol levels to minimize risk just as it is important to control diabetes, high blood pressure, and avoid smoking.

Guidelines for cholesterol levels have been developed by many health organizations including the American Heart Association. It is important to remember that tests may need to be repeated over time to help monitor treatment and disease risk prevention. 

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
Less than n150 mg/dL: normal
150-199 mg/dL: borderline to high
200-499mg/dL: high
Above 500 mg/dL: very high

Medically Reviewed on 6/7/2018


Medically reviewed by Robert J. Bryg, MD; Board Certified Internal Medicine with subspecialty in Cardiovascular Disease REFERENCE:

American Heart Association. What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean.