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Cholesterol Blood Test: The Basics, the Benefits, and the Recommendations

How a cholesterol blood test, also called a lipid panel or lipid profile, can tell you the levels of different kinds of cholesterol in your body¹²³⁴⁵. A short guide:

1. What’s Measured: The test mainly measures your:

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, called the “good” cholesterol because it helps take LDL cholesterol out of your blood²³⁴⁵.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, called the “bad” cholesterol. Too much of it can make cholesterol build up on the walls of your arteries²³⁴⁵.
  • Triglycerides, a kind of fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides in your blood make your risk of heart disease higher²³⁴⁵.
  • Total cholesterol, the total amount of cholesterol in your blood²³⁴⁵.

2. Procedure: The test is a blood test, usually done in the morning if you don’t eat overnight⁵. Blood is taken from a vein, usually from your arm³⁵.

3. Why It’s Done: A complete cholesterol test is done to find out if your cholesterol is high and to guess your risk of heart attacks and other kinds of heart disease and blood vessel diseases.

4. Who Should Get Tested: The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) says that cholesterol checks should happen every 1 to 2 years for men ages 45 to 65 and for women ages 55 to 65³. People over 65 should get cholesterol tests every year³.

5. Understanding Results: In the United States, cholesterol and triglyceride levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood². Good results for most adults are: LDL: less than 100 mg/dL, HDL: 40 to 60 mg/dL (a higher number is better), Total cholesterol: less than 200 mg/dL².

High cholesterol has no signs, so a blood test is the only way to find out if you have it¹. Regular cholesterol checks are important, especially if you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart disease, or other problems, like diabetes or high blood pressure¹.

(Note: This is a general guide and different people might need different things. Always talk to a doctor for advice that is right for you.)

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