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How long to fast for a cholesterol test: here's what to know

Medically reviewed on July 13, 2022 by Jordan Stachel, M.S., RDN, CPT. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


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Your cholesterol is an essential part of your body’s cells and is critical to your metabolic, hormonal, and cellular functions. However, when too much cholesterol builds up in your blood, the waxy substance can create plaque that clogs your arteries, affecting your heart health.

Unfortunately, high cholesterol levels have little to no symptoms. To gauge your cholesterol levels, you’ll need to take a cholesterol blood test. [1]

Like many other blood tests, cholesterol tests require a fasting period beforehand. According to the CDC, most cholesterol tests (called “lipid panel” or “lipid profile”) require you to fast for 8 to 12 hours. [2] However, some tests don’t require fasting, so it’s best to check with your healthcare provider ahead of time.

Why is fasting required for a cholesterol test?

Simply put, eating and drinking can interfere with your test result. When you consume food and beverages, excess cholesterol can enter the body and skew the number.

What’s more, if you eat or drink within several hours of your test, you risk receiving an incomplete picture of your overall cholesterol numbers, which include HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. If you skip fasting, only your HDL cholesterol and total cholesterol levels are usable. [3]

How do cholesterol tests work?

Wondering what to expect from a cholesterol test and how to understand cholesterol test results? Your experience will depend on the type of test you take. Generally, there are only two types of cholesterol tests:

  • In-clinic cholesterol testing – Having your cholesterol levels tested at a clinic is similar to any other blood test. A technician will clean your inner elbow with an antiseptic before wrapping an elastic band around your arm. After a few moments, they’ll insert a needle into your vein and draw blood into a vial.
  • At-home cholesterol testing – Wondering how to test cholesterol at home? When you take an at-home cholesterol test (like the one from Everlywell), you won’t have to draw blood. Instead, you’ll sanitize and prick your finger to collect your blood sample. When testing through Everlywell, you’ll then ship the test to a CLIA-certified lab where an independent board-certified physician will review your test result.

Furthermore, regardless of how you draw blood, the testing process is the same. In the lab, professionals check your blood for these four cholesterol indicators:

  • High-density lipoproteins (HDL—the good cholesterol)
  • Low-density lipoproteins (LDL—the bad cholesterol)
  • Triglycerides
  • Total cholesterol numbers

Preparing for your cholesterol test

Cholesterol tests are quick and easy by nature. Still, if you take a few minutes to prepare, you can ensure the entire process goes even smoother—from hours before your test to moments after.

What can you eat or drink before a cholesterol test?

If your cholesterol test is of the fasting variety, you may be wondering if there are any loopholes. What about a cup of coffee? A small glass of apple juice? Unfortunately, you cannot consume anything before your cholesterol test.

While some types of fasting—such as intermittent fasting—allow you to drink unsweetened coffee or tea, fasting for a blood test is different. Once you’ve entered the pre-test fasting period, you should only drink water.

When is the best time to do a cholesterol test?

Whenever fasting is involved, it’s best to schedule your test first thing in the morning, since you’ll already have a head start on fasting.

Not eating or drinking for eight hours of your day may seem difficult, but remember: You already fast for a third of your day while you sleep. When you plan your cholesterol test for, say, 9 in the morning, all you have to do is stop eating after 9 pm the night before.

Considering that dietitians recommend you avoid eating before bed in all cases [4], overnight fasting is most likely already a part of your routine.

Sure, you might feel a little hungry ahead of your morning test, but you can reward your patience and iron will with a nutrient-dense brunch afterward.

Other ways to prepare for a cholesterol test

Aside from understanding how long to fast for cholesterol test results for complete accuracy, there are other steps you can take to make your test as seamless as possible:

  • Have a feast before you fast – Try to eat a large, filling meal right before the beginning of your fasting window. Foods like beans and lentils, eggs, and high-fiber fruits keep you feeling full for longer.
  • Steel your nerves – Cholesterol tests are quick and painless, but you will see a bit of blood. Because traditional cholesterol tests involve drawing blood, you may want to prepare yourself mentally—especially if you’re not fond of needles.
  • Ready the ice packs – You might experience tenderness or soreness where the needle entered your vein, so it pays to have a bag of frozen peas at home.
  • Bring a snack – If you’re prone to feeling faint or light-headed when hungry, it’s worth packing a granola bar or an apple. When you come prepared, you can relieve your hunger as soon as you finish your test.

Remove the stress from testing with Everlywell

Fasting is an essential part of many cholesterol tests, but it doesn’t have to be stressful or uncomfortable. One way to improve the overall experience is to do your cholesterol test at home.

While you’ll still have to fast for 8 to 10 hours before taking an Everlywell Cholesterol & Lipids Test, you won’t have to sit in a waiting room while your stomach rumbles. Plus, as soon as you complete your at-home lipid profile test, you can start making a delicious meal right away.

How to understand cholesterol test results

How to test cholesterol at home?

How to test lipids


References

  1. High Cholesterol. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  2. Getting Your Cholesterol Checked. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  3. How To Get Your Cholesterol Tested. American Heart Association. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
  4. Is Eating Before Bed Bad for You? Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed July 13, 2022.
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