Cholesterol Test: Purpose, Preparation, Procedure, Risks to the test, Test Results and Risk factor

A complete cholesterol test is also called a lipid panel or lipid profile. This is a blood test that can measure the amount of good and bad cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.

Updated: September 29, 2019

A complete cholesterol test is also called a lipid panel or lipid profile. This is a blood test that can measure the amount of good and bad cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy fat that is found in your blood and every cell of your body. It is an essential substance for your body to function properly and to keep your cells and organs healthy. The amount of cholesterol your body needs is made by your liver. 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. 
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol are two major type of cholestrol present in your blood. Too much LDL cholesterol in your blood may put you at risk for heart disease and other serious health issues. High LDL levels can cause the build-up of plaque, a fatty substance that narrows the arteries and blocks normal flow of blood in your arteries leading to narrowed or blocked arteries throughout your body called as atherosclerosis. It can cause a heart attack when blood flow to the heart is blocked. When blood flow to the brain is blocked, it can lead to stroke and peripheral artery disease.
As high cholesterol levels usually don't cause any signs or symptoms, so a cholesterol test should be done to know about this risk factor of heart disease.

Purpose of Cholesterol Test:

Usually there is no signs or symptoms for a high cholesterol level. A complete cholesterol test is done to determine your cholesterol level and estimate your risk of developing heart disease. This includes the calculation of five types of fats (lipids) in your blood:

LDL levels:

This is also known as the bad cholesterol. LDL is the main source of blockages in the arteries and too much of it raises your risk of heart attack, stroke, and atherosclerosis.

HDL levels:

This is considered as the good cholesterol. HDL helps remove bad LDL cholesterol and thus keeping arteries open and your blood flowing more freely.

Total cholesterol:

This is 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. The extra the calories from food that are not needed for the body will be converted into triglycerides, which are stored in your fat cells. People who are overweight, diabetic, eat too many sweets, or drink too much alcohol can have high triglyceride levels. 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 is associated with high VLDL levels. As the measurement of VLDL is not so easy, so most of the time these levels are estimated based on triglyceride measurements.

Preparation for a Cholesterol Test:

Fasting before having your cholesterol levels tested is necessary in some cases. You may not fast, if you are only getting your HDL and total cholesterol levels tested. However, if you are having a complete lipid profile done, you should avoid eating or drinking anything other than water for 9 to 12 hours before your test. For this reason you can do this test early morning after a overnight fast. You should also tell your doctor about any symptoms or health problems you are experiencing, your family history of heart health and all medications and supplements that you are currently taking before your test.
If you are taking medications that could increase your cholesterol levels, such as birth control pills, should be stopped a few days before your test.

Procedure of Cholesterol Test:

Since you will need to fast for 9 to 12 hours, usually it is done in the morning for the most accurate results. Most blood samples are collected by wrapping an elastic band around your upper arm. By doing this the flow of blood in the arm is stopped and the veins in your arm become more visible, which makes it easier to insert the needle. Alcohol is used to clean the site on your skin where the needle will be inserted and then the needle is inserted into the vein. This may cause a brief pinching or stinging sensation. Your blood is collected in a tube that is attached to the needle. Sometimes more than one tube may be needed. The elastic band is removed after enough blood has been collected. Cotton or gauze is placed on the site of the needle insertion after the needle is removed from your skin. You will be asked to apply pressure to the area using cotton or gauze to stop bleeding. A bandage is used to secure the cotton or gauze after sometime in that place.
There are no special precautions you need to take after your cholesterol test. You should be able to drive yourself home and do all your normal activities soon after the test. 

Risks to the test:

There are very few risks associated with having your blood drawn for a cholesterol test. You may feel slightly faint or have some soreness or pain at the site where your blood was drawn, but most symptoms go away quickly. There is also a very slight risk of infection at the puncture site.

Test Results:

Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. Ideal results for most adults are:

  • LDL: 70 to 130 mg/dL (the lower the number, the better)
  • HDL: more than 40 to 60 mg/dL (the higher the number, the better)
  • total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL (the lower the number, the better)
  • triglycerides: 10 to 150 mg/dL (the lower the number, the better)

An ideal cholesterol range for you may depend on your age, family history, lifestyle, and other risk factors. In general, for a healthy heart, low LDL levels and high HDL cholesterol levels is desirable. High levels of triglycerides may also put you at risk for heart disease. If your cholesterol numbers are outside of the normal range, you may be at a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and atherosclerosis.
Cholesterol test results can be wrong sometimes. Improper fasting, medications, human error, and a variety of other factors can cause a wrong results. Testing both your HDL and LDL levels typically produces more accurate results than checking your LDL alone. 
Calculated LDL is a calculation of total cholesterol, HDL, and triglycerides. Your LDL level may also be measured directly, without using other measurements. However, in both the cases your LDL number should be low.

Risk factor of High Cholesterol:

High Cholesterol is associated with:

  • family history of high cholesterol or heart disease
  • overweight or obesity
  • drinking alcohol frequently
  • cigarette smoking
  • inactive lifestyle
  • having diabetes, kidney disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, or an underactive thyroid gland
Cholesterol levels are manageable with lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, exercising and eating a healthy diet. Cholesterol lowering medications may also help if lifestyle changes aren't enough. The best way for you to lower your cholesterol can be discussed with a doctor. 


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