Cholesterol is a substance that our body naturally produces. In many situations, it’s actually essential for us. High Density Lipoproteins (HDL) are a type of ‘scavenger’ cholesterol that travels along your bloodstream, mopping up any excess cholesterol it finds. High levels of HDL actually lowers your risk of heart disease. However, Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) are the type of cholesterol you want to avoid. LDL cholesterol lines the insides of your blood vessels, constricting the flow of blood. This increases your blood pressure, increases your risk for a stroke and of developing coronary heart disease. Detecting your cholesterol levels early is crucial if you want to take active steps towards leading a long, healthy life.
When Should You Get A Cholesterol Test?
It might come as a surprise, but the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends you start getting cholesterol tests done as early as the age of 20. However, you might need to get tested earlier or later depending on what your risk factors for developing high cholesterol are. If you’re overweight, diabetic or have a genetic history towards heart disease, your doctor might ask you to get a cholesterol test done at a much younger age, even 17. If you’re at a healthy weight and don’t have many risk factors, they might ask you to start getting tested for cholesterol after the age of 35. Ask your doctor for a complete health evaluation and then let him suggest when you need to start taking cholesterol tests. Once you do get yourself tested, most doctors recommend you get another test done every 4 to 6 years.
Should You Fast Before A Test?
Most doctors will recommend that you fast for at least 12 hours before your cholesterol test. Cholesterol tests measure your total cholesterol levels along with your triglyceride levels. Both these factors can be impacted by the food you eat right before a test. You will also need to stay away from alcohol for at least 24 hours before taking a test, because this will affect your readings. You can drink as much water as you want though. Fasting isn’t always required before a cholesterol test, but it’s important if you want the most accurate results. Your doctor will tell you if you need to fast and for how long.
What Happens During The Test?
If you’ve ever had a blood test before, a cholesterol test is exactly like that. Your body’s cholesterol levels are measured through a blood sample. A healthcare attendant will use a needle to draw your blood, collect it in a vial and send it to the lab for analysis. How painful this procedure is depends entirely on your threshold for pain. It is usually painless and you’ll probably only feel a pinch. After the test, you might feel some soreness at the spot. After you give a blood sample, the results will take a few days to a week to come.
What Do Your Results Mean?
When you get back your test results, your analysis will most likely include a total lipid profile. A total lipid profile measures four parameters: your total cholesterol levels, your LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and your triglyceride levels. Here’s how you can interpret what these levels mean.
Total Cholesterol Levels
Normal: 200 mg/dL or less
Borderline: 200-239 mg/dL
Dangerous: Higher than 240 mg/dL
LDL Cholesterol Levels
Normal: 100 mg/dL or less
Borderline: 130 t0 159 mg/dL
Dangerous: Higher than 160 mg/dL
HDL Cholesterol Levels
Optimum: 60 mg/dL or higher
Normal: 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women
Low: 39 mg/dL or less
Normal: 149 mg/dL or less
Borderline: 150 to 199 mg/dL
Dangerous: 200 mg/dL or more
What Happens After The Results?
If your results are completely normal, congratulate yourself and continue living a healthy lifestyle. However, if your results fall under the borderline or dangerous range, your doctor will recommend some serious lifestyle changes. You will need to give up your sedentary lifestyle, exercise more and eat healthier. Your doctor might even put you on medication depending upon how high your cholesterol is.