A blood cholesterol test gives your physician important information about your risk for cardiovascular disease and can also be used to see if medications prescribed to lower cholesterol levels are working. This blood test is used to measure total cholesterol levels, LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol, HDL (or “good”) cholesterol and triglycerides. When all types of blood fat are checked at the same time, it is called a lipoprotein profile.
- LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol because it causes plaque to build up inside the arteries. The maximum LDL for health in patients varies with medical history. An LDL cholesterol reading of over 130 mg/dl places someone at higher risk for cardiovascular events. With existing disease, the maximum may be 100 mg/dl, or even lower - for example 70 mg/dl if you have had a heart attack.
- HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is called “good” cholesterol because it helps keep cholesterol from building up inside the blood vessels. An HDL cholesterol reading below 40 indicates an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, and higher is always better.
- Triglycerides are the third type of blood fat measured by the test. A triglyceride level of 200 or more indicates an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
How Does It Work?
Your blood will be drawn and sent to a lab for analysis. The total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, or triglyceride levels in the blood may be measured individually or together as part of a lipoprotein profile. The test results will be communicated back to your physician.
How Is It Performed?
Before the test, be sure to follow any instructions given to you by your physician related to eating and drinking.
A cholesterol/lipids test is like any other blood test. Having blood drawn typically only takes a few minutes. You will be asked to roll up your shirt sleeve (if necessary) and the medical professional who will be drawing the blood will swab the area where the needle will be inserted with an alcohol wipe. A rubber tube may be tied around the upper part of your arm, or you may be asked to make a fist, to make the veins stand out more and easier to access.
A needle attached to a small test tube will be inserted into your vein and blood will begin to flow into the tube. When a sample that is appropriate for the test has been gathered, the needle will be removed, and you may be asked to press on a piece of gauze placed over the insertion site. This pressure will help stop any bleeding from the tiny puncture site. A bandage will then be placed over the site where the needle was inserted.
Your blood sample will then be sent to lab technicians for analysis. You will receive information when you have the blood test as to when you can expect results.
Is It Safe?
Having blood drawn by a qualified medical professional is very safe. You will experience momentary pain when the needle is inserted, and you may experience bruising at the needle insertion site after the test is complete. If you have an allergy to latex or to any adhesives, let the person know who is drawing the blood so he or she can make any necessary adjustments.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor About Cholesterol and Lipids Tests
The following questions can help you talk to your physician about having a cholesterol/lipids test. Consider printing out or writing down these questions and taking them with you to your appointment. Taking notes can help you remember your physician’s response when you get home.
- Do I need to have an empty stomach before the test? Should I withhold any of my medications? Are there any medications that I will need to take?
- What happens next if the test shows that my cholesterol/lipids levels are unhealthy?
- What can I do to have healthier cholesterol/lipids levels?
- What is my risk level for cardiovascular disease?
Please print this list of questions here. Take them with you to the doctor and share them with friends and loved ones when you are encouraging them to see their doctors.