When should I undergo a cholesterol test? What would the results say about my health? How many tests are there and which will give me the best results?
Unlike any other health tests, cholesterol testing does not diagnose disease. Instead, it reveals the risks of developing heart disease. Cholesterol testing is considered necessary in preventive health care for individuals over 20 years of age. The test should be repeated once every five years for healthy individuals.
Cholesterol testing, along with HDL, LDL and triglyceride testing is called the lipoprotein profile.
Cholesterol testing is done several times a year for individuals who are on a prescribed diet and for those who are taking cholesterol lowering medications.
Usually blood samples are drawn from the arm. Sometimes blood samples are taken from the fingertip. The samples are analyzed by a cholesterol testing device. Cholesterol tests are used to monitor the progress in lowering the cholesterol level.
Test results are grouped in three types:
* Desirable – the cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL below is regarded to be desirable because it has a low risk of heart disease.
* Borderline high - a total cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL to 240 mg/dL is at fair risk of having heart disease. Your doctor may decide to give you have a lipid profile in order to determine which cholesterol level is high.
* High Risk – a 240 mg/dL cholesterol level is considered to be at high risk of heart disease. Expect a lipid profiling if your cholesterol level is this high. It is more likely that you will be given a cholesterol lowering medication along with a low cholesterol diet.
Cholesterol tests are usually given when the individual is healthy because the blood cholesterol level of an individual who has an acute illness, (after a heart attack or after surgery or accident) is likely to be low. Individuals are advised to wait at least six weeks after any illness before taking cholesterol tests. Pregnant women are also advised to wait six weeks before having their cholesterol level measured.
A Brief Explanation of Cholesterol Ratios:
Cholesterol ratios consist of total cholesterol. Total cholesterol includes low level lipoprotein cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol), triglycerides and high density lipoprotein cholesterol level (HDL cholesterol).
Cholesterol is measured by milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). Usually, only the total cholesterol amount is given when a person is tested for cholesterol. Sometimes you are given the HDL cholesterol and the total cholesterol results.
The desirable total cholesterol level is 200mg/dL and the beneficial amount of HDL is more than 40mg/dL.
There are two important cholesterol ratios. These they are LDL/HDL cholesterol ratios and total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratios.
In the latter cholesterol ratios, your cholesterol result is given by the total cholesterol divided by the HDL cholesterol. According to the American Heart Association, the desirable amount should be below 5:1 with the optimal amount of 3.5:1 or 3.5 to 1.
The LDL/HDL is done by dividing LDL cholesterol by the HDL cholesterol. The desirable amount in this ratio should be 3.5 below. The American Heart Association recommended that physicians must use complete numbers for total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol in determining the appropriate treatment.
A normal cholesterol level as suggested by the National Institute of Health:
* total cholesterol - 200mg/dL
* LDL – 100mg/dL
* HDL (man) – 40mg/dL above
* HDL (woman) – 50mg/dL above
* Triglycerides – 150mg/dL
It is important to remember to fast the night before, prior to taking a lipid profile test (a test that profiles the HDL cholesterol, triglycerides and total cholesterol) the next day.