Contributed by – Healthians Team

What is the cholesterol test?

A cholesterol test or cholesterol total serum test is used to measure the amount of cholesterol in the blood. Cholesterol is an essential substance for us as it forms the membranes of cells in all organs and tissues in the body. It is also used to make hormones needed for development, growth, and reproduction. Besides, it makes acids needed by the body to absorb nutrients from food.

However, having high amounts of cholesterol in the body can seriously damage your health. Our body produces the amount of cholesterol it needs for proper functioning, but diet is also a source of cholesterol. Consuming foods high in saturated fats and trans fats can increase your cholesterol levels and negatively impact your health. The extra cholesterol gets deposited in the form of plaque on the walls of blood vessels. This can narrow and eventually block your blood vessels and lead to hardening of the arteries. As a result, your risk of developing heart diseases and stroke increases.

Who should get tested?

Adults at average risk of heart diseases should get their cholesterol levels checked every five years, beginning at age 18. Getting frequent cholesterol tests might be necessary if initial results were abnormal or you are already diagnosed with heart diseases, diabetes, stroke, or high blood pressure or are taking cholesterol-lowering medications. 

Factors that put you at higher risk of developing complications due to high cholesterol are – 

  • Having a family history of high cholesterol or heart attacks
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having an inactive or sedentary lifestyle
  • Being diabetic
  • Eating unhealthy food
  • Smoking excessively
  • Having high alcohol consumption

Why is the test needed?

There aren’t any usual signs and symptoms of high cholesterol. Therefore, you should get a cholesterol test done at regular intervals to measure its amount in the blood and determine your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diseases of the blood vessels. 

A complete cholesterol test includes calculation of these four types of lipids in the blood – 

  • Total cholesterol – This is the total amount of cholesterol that your body has.
  • Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) – It is also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol. Too much LDL can cause a buildup of plaque in arteries which reduces blood flow and increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
  • High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) – It is also known as ‘good’ cholesterol. It helps carry excess LDL cholesterol away for disposal, thus keeping arteries open.
  • Triglycerides – Triglycerides are a type of fat. When you eat, your body converts the excess calories into triglycerides which are stored in your fat cells. Those who are overweight, have a sedentary lifestyle, are diabetic, and drink too much alcohol usually have high triglycerides.

What does cholesterol test results mean?

Cholesterol test results depend on a lot of factors, including age, gender, and the method used by the lab for testing. Thus, results from different labs may vary. Nevertheless, you can find the reference range of the cholesterol test in the following table.

TOTAL CHOLESTEROL Less than 200 mg/dL 200-239 mg/dL 240 mg/dL and above
HDL 60 mg/dL and above 40-59 mg/dL Below 40 mg/dL
LDL 70-130 mg/dL 130-159 mg/dL 160-189 mg/dL
TRIGLYCERIDES 10-150 mg/dL 150-199 mg/dL 200-499 mg/dL

Interpreting results – 

Normal cholesterol – It is considered desirable and reflects a low risk.

Borderline cholesterol – It reflects moderate risk. Treatment and lifestyle changes might be prescribed.

High cholesterol – It reflects high risk. After determining the cause of having high cholesterol, your doctor will prescribe an appropriate treatment.

How is the cholesterol test done?

The cholesterol test is a blood test usually done in the morning since you will have to fast for several hours before the sample collection for accurate results. The blood is usually drawn from a vein in the arm. The process is simple, quick, and relatively painless. Once the sample is collected, it is sent to a laboratory for testing.

Test your cholesterol levels now