A cholesterol test is a blood test that measures the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. Cholesterol is fatty material that’s produced by your body and found in some foods. Though your body needs cholesterol, too much of it can lead to cardiovascular disease and stroke.
A cholesterol test can help determine your risk of fatty deposits in your arteries. Knowing your cholesterol levels is an important part of preventive healthcare. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a cholesterol test every four to six years for all adults over the age of 20.
Your cholesterol tests may be a “fasting” or a “non-fasting” lipoprotein profile. In this article, we will look at how you should prepare for either cholesterol blood test.
How is cholesterol tested?
Cholesterol is measured using a blood test. Similar to other blood tests, a cholesterol test is quick and typically painless. Your healthcare provider will draw a sample of your blood either at a doctor’s office or a lab, and collect that sample in a vial. You can expect your results either within a few days or in a couple of weeks, depending on the lab.
What is a cholesterol test looking for?
A cholesterol test will measure the amount of the following in your blood:
Total cholesterol: This is the sum of the cholesterol content in your blood.
Triglycerides: These are a type of fat found in your blood and can contribute to buildup in your arteries.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: This type of cholesterol is known as the “bad” cholesterol. LDL makes up most of your body’s cholesterol. High levels of LDL contribute to the buildup of fats in your arteries.
High-density lipoprotein (HDC) cholesterol: This type of cholesterol is known as the “good” cholesterol. A healthy amount of HDL can protect you from experiencing a stroke or developing heart disease.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the ideal levels of each type of cholesterol are:
Total cholesterol: Below 200 mg/dl
Triglycerides: Under 150 mg/dl
LDL: Under 100 mg/dl
HDL: Under 60 mg/dl
Should you fast before your cholesterol test?
In most cases, you will need to fast for 10-12 hours before your cholesterol test. Fasting means not drinking or eating anything except for water. Foods you eat can affect the levels of triglycerides in your blood, which can alter the outcome of the blood test.
Not all cholesterol tests require fasting, though. Certain tests don’t require fasting, so follow your healthcare provider’s instructions.
What can you eat the night before your test?
If your healthcare provider instructs fasting, you should not consume anything except for water the night before your test. Cholesterol tests, and other blood tests that require fasting, are usually scheduled in the morning for this reason.
If your test does not require fasting, you can eat normally the night before your test.
Foods to lower cholesterol levels
Some foods can reduce cholesterol levels. Foods that make up a low cholesterol diet include:
- Vegetable oils
- Fatty fish
- Citrus fruits
If you want to lower your cholesterol levels, look into a diet that is high in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and plant protein.
Foods to avoid
Diets containing too much saturated fat and trans fat are the leading cause of high blood cholesterol. If you want to lower your cholesterol levels, you should avoid eating:
- Deep-fried foods
- Fatty meats
- Full-fat dairy products
- Animal fats (butter, lard, margarine)
Who should get a cholesterol test?
Every person over the age of 20 should get a cholesterol test every four to six years. More frequent testing might be needed if your initial test results were abnormal, or if you have coronary artery disease. Frequent testing is also required if you are at risk of high cholesterol levels.
Factors that can put you at higher risk include:
- Family history of heart attacks
- Lack of physical activity
- Frequent cigarette smoking
- Unhealthy diet
People undergoing treatment for high cholesterol will require frequent testing.
The bottom line
Getting your cholesterol levels checked is an important part of preventative healthcare. Reach out to our lab to book your cholesterol test.