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Categories > Heart Health > Cholesterol

Preparing for a cholesterol test

Don’t panic if your doctor tells you that he or she wants to test your cholesterol. All adults ages 20 and older should have their cholesterol checked once every five years if their baseline assessment is normal.

A cholesterol test measures all of the cholesterol in your blood. We all need to have some cholesterol for the body to function properly, but too much of it can clog the arteries and lead to health problems including heart disease. It’s impossible to tell by looking at someone whether he or she has normal or high cholesterol; weight or physical appearance doesn’t correspond with cholesterol readings. Those with a family history of high cholesterol are at higher risk for the condition.

Taking the test

A cholesterol exam will look and feel like any other blood test. To ensure accurate results for this simple blood test, you’ll need to fast for nine to 12 hours before the exam. So it’s best to schedule your appointment in the morning and stop eating and drinking the night before the test. It’s fine to drink water if you’re thirsty, but other beverages are off-limits. If your doctor tells you to stop taking certain medications before the test, follow those orders; some drugs may impact test results, including those containing hormones.

Your doctor should give you your test results within a few days. Total cholesterol below 200 mg/dL is desirable. Between 200 and 239 mg/dL is considered borderline high, and numbers that are 240 mg/dL and higher are considered high, which puts you at a much greater risk for developing heart disease. Doctors don’t just look at your total cholesterol level, but also specific levels of your bad cholesterol (LDL) and good cholesterol (HDL). Additionally, your triglyceride level (the chemical form in which most fat exists in food and the body) is also important as part of the cardiovascular risk assessment.

If your cholesterol levels are too high, your doctor may recommend that you lower your numbers yourself by changing your diet and other habits. For many people, eating more produce and less fat, exercising more and quitting smoking helps.

If you’re not getting results from these lifestyle changes, your doctor may prescribe you medication to lower your cholesterol.