Home cholesterol test kit for routine checking of cholesterol levels

How Often to Check Cholesterol: Key Points to Know

Written on February 19, 2024 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. 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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One of the components of a healthy cell is cholesterol. Although cholesterol is necessary for the body, too much can cause significant problems and diseases. Elevated cholesterol levels result in fat accumulation in the bloodstream, impeding the passage of blood via the arteries. Blocked arteries can cause a person to have a heart attack or stroke.

Many people are unaware that their cholesterol levels are high because high cholesterol does not present any symptoms. Getting your cholesterol tested is the only way to determine whether you have high cholesterol. This article will discuss how often to check cholesterol and how to do so.

What Is a Cholesterol Test?

A complete cholesterol test is known as a lipid panel. It provides an estimate of your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and assists your healthcare provider in determining the appropriate cholesterol-lowering therapies for you.[1]

Your healthcare provider must get a blood sample to test your cholesterol levels. You will most likely have your blood drawn in the morning, often after fasting the night before.

They perform a blood test as an outpatient treatment. It takes only a few minutes and is relatively painless. It is generally done in a diagnostic lab. It may also be performed at a routine healthcare provider’s visit, local drugstore, or even at home.

The cholesterol tests your healthcare provider orders will probably be entirely or partially covered by your health insurance plan if you have one.

Getting blood collected for a cholesterol test carries minimal risk. You might have some discomfort or pain where they take your blood and a minor dizziness. There is extremely little chance of infection at the puncture site.

How Often to Check Cholesterol

Discuss your medical history and how frequently you should get your cholesterol evaluated with your healthcare team. It is recommended that individuals, including children and teenagers, begin screening for cholesterol at an early age:

  1. Most healthy persons should have their cholesterol levels checked every four to six years.
  2. Some people, such as those with heart disease, diabetes, or a family history of high cholesterol, should have their cholesterol levels examined more frequently.
  3. Children and teenagers should have their cholesterol checked at least once between the ages of 9 and 11 and again between the ages of 17 and 21.
  4. Children with obesity or diabetes may require more frequent screenings for elevated cholesterol.

The 2018 ACC/AHA Guidelines indicate that cholesterol management is based on a person's lifetime cardiovascular risk, whether they are 45 to 75 years old, diabetic, or have additional risk factors.[2]

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Healthcare experts estimate a person's lifelong cardiovascular risk by factoring:

  1. Any other health issues the person might have simultaneously (comorbidities)
  2. Whether the individual is being treated for high blood pressure
  3. Possible risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as smoking and other lifestyle choices

What Happens During a Cholesterol Test?

The cholesterol test, also known as a screening, needs a simple blood draw.[3] The cholesterol test measures specific levels.

High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL): HDL cholesterol is known as "good" cholesterol because it helps to remove LDL cholesterol from your blood.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol): LDL cholesterol is known as "bad" cholesterol. Too much of it can cause cholesterol to accumulate on the walls of your arteries. This increases your risk of having a heart attack, a stroke, or developing atherosclerosis.

Triglycerides: When you eat, your body breaks down the fats in your diet into smaller molecules known as triglycerides. High triglyceride levels in the blood increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Obesity or untreated diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, and a high-calorie diet can all lead to high triglyceride levels.

Very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL): Your blood also contains VLDL, a cholesterol associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease. VLDL is rarely reported on cholesterol testing because it is not directly measured. Instead, VLDL levels are computed by assuming VLDL levels equal 20% of your triglyceride levels. Healthcare providers do not use your VLDL levels to guide treatment for high cholesterol.

The total level of cholesterol: This is the overall amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream. It is the sum of LDL, HDL, and VLDL cholesterol. The healthcare providers assess only total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol directly. Healthcare providers determine LDL and VLDL levels from total cholesterol, HDL, and triglyceride levels.

Getting Ready for a Cholesterol Test

In rare situations, your healthcare provider may instruct you to fast before having your cholesterol levels checked.

However, according to 2018 guidelines published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, a non-fasting test can accurately detect elevated cholesterol or lipids in persons over the age of 20 who are not taking lipid-lowering medicines.[4]

If you must fast, avoid eating or drinking anything other than water for 9 to 12 hours before the test. Before the exam, you should also inform your healthcare provider about:

  1. Any symptoms or health problems
  2. Your family history of heart disease
  3. Any current medications or supplements you are taking

If you are taking any medications that could raise your cholesterol readings, such as birth control pills, your healthcare provider may advise you to cease taking them a few days before your test.

Risk Factors That Can Result in High Cholesterol

High cholesterol does not happen overnight. The illness develops gradually as a person's health and body deteriorate. Certain risk factors make people more likely to have high cholesterol. Some of these include:

  1. Obesity
  2. Smoking
  3. Diabetes
  4. Lack of physical activity
  5. Unhealthy eating habits

People with these risk factors should learn how to manage or change their conditions to avoid developing high cholesterol. Healthcare providers may administer medication and advise high-risk patients on lifestyle changes.[5]

Help Keep Your Heart Healthy With Everlywell

A cholesterol test measures the amounts of cholesterol and lipids in your blood to determine your risk of cardiovascular disease. Most healthy persons should get their cholesterol levels tested at least once every five years. People with a family history of high cholesterol or at a higher risk of developing it should be tested more frequently.

If you have high cholesterol, your healthcare provider can work with you to develop a treatment plan to bring your cholesterol levels back into the normal range. Treatment for high cholesterol typically includes a combination of dietary changes, increased activity, smoking cessation, and medication.

If you are still trying to figure out where to begin, Everlywell can help with cholesterol testing for a heart-healthy life through our at-home heart health membership. Additionally, our quick and easy virtual care visits connect you with a certified healthcare expert who can discuss your health journey and offer valuable insights.

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  1. Strychar, I. M., Champagne, F., Ghadirian, P., Bonin, A., Jenicek, M., & Lasater, T. M. Impact of Receiving Blood Cholesterol Test Results on Dietary Change. American Journal Of Preventive Medicine 1998. 14(2), 103-110.
  2. Stone, N. J., & Grundy, S. M. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases. The 2018 AHA/ACC/Multi-Society Cholesterol guidelines. 2019.62(5), 375-383.
  3. Nauck, M., Warnick, G. R., & Rifai, N. Methods for measurement of LDL-cholesterol. Clinical Chemistry. 2002. 48(2), 236-254.
  4. Guideline on the Management of Blood Cholesterol: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Medical Citation URL. Accessed February 21, 2024.
  5. National Cholesterol Education Program (US). Expert Panel on Detection, & Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults. 1993 (adult treatment panel II) (No. 93).
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