Cholesterol testing differs from many other medical tests insofar as it is not used to diagnose or monitor an illness but rather to predict an estimated risk of developing a disease at some point in future – heart disease to be precise.
This is known as a screening test and, because there are no symptoms associated with high cholesterol levels, it is recommended that all adults have such a test at least once every five years. Depending upon the results of the test the frequency of testing may be increased and supplementary tests may be recommended by your doctor.
Normally a total cholesterol test is performed first. This will establish your total blood cholesterol level and the level of good HDL cholesterol. This test is performed by analysing a blood sample – a finger prick -and there is no need to fast prior to this. There are several home testing kits available and some of these have been approved but the FDA in the USA. In the UK free cholesterol testing is available in larger chemists.
If the total cholesterol test levels are satisfactory, and you have no other health factors which indicate a need for further testing, then this will probably be sufficient to give you and your doctor a good idea of what level of risk you are at.
If the test results are not definitive then a further test to establish your “bad” LDL cholesterol level will probably be required. Don’t worry about this unduly – the need for a further test is not, in itself, a definite sign that you have a problem.
In order for the supplementary test to be accurate, your doctor will advise you to fast for between 9 and 12 hours prior to the test taking place.
Cholesterol testing should always be performed when the person being tested is healthy. Blood cholesterol is often temporarily low when someone is ill, immediately following a heart attack or during periods of stress – e. g. following surgery. You should wait for at least 6 weeks after an illness before having your cholesterol level tested.
As always, if you are in any doubt - ask your doctor.