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Accurate or Not? At-Home Cholesterol Tests and Blood Pressure Monitors

The advantages and disadvantages of checking your cholesterol and blood pressure at home.
By
WebMD Feature

If you have high cholesterol or high blood pressure (or if you're worried about having it), you may have been tempted by the many at-home cholesterol tests and blood pressure monitors currently on the market. The devices promise quick, accurate results in the privacy of your own home, a boon for busy people who don't like to sit in waiting rooms. But do they actually work? And are they worth the investment? Read on to learn which products are worth the money and which are not.

Home Cholesterol Tests

Approved by the FDA in 1993, home cholesterol tests generally measure the total fat levels in your blood. A few years ago, some manufacturers also started producing home cholesterol tests that measure high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol that protects your heart; low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the "bad" cholesterol which contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries; and triglycerides.

To use the cholesterol tests, you prick your finger with a small lancet, put a drop of blood on a piece of paper with chemicals on it, and wait for the results (usually within 10 minutes or so). In some tests, you can tell your results by the color of the paper. In others, your result appears on a small screen -- often within one minute.

The results of home cholesterol tests are about 95% accurate -- very close to the accuracy of a doctor's (or laboratory's) test.

Home cholesterol tests cost between $14 (for the kind that uses paper strips) and $125 (for a hand-held automatic cholesterol device that tests total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides). That may sound like a pretty good deal, as even the higher-end devices would save you trips to -- and waiting time at -- the doctor's office or medical laboratory. But the home cholesterol tests have a number of problems that may not make them a good investment.

First, the most readily available (and affordable) tests only measure total cholesterol. A full understanding of your cholesterol profile requires measurements of HDL, LDL, and triglycerides as well.

Second, even if you get a sophisticated cholesterol test, a doctor needs to review your results in combination with your other risk factors -- such as family history, nutritional habits, age, and gender -- to really understand your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Third, and perhaps most important, blood cholesterol -- unlike blood pressure -- doesn't change on a day-to-day or even week-to-week basis. Doctors recommend that healthy adults get cholesterol tests every five years; people with higher cholesterol levels or risk factors for cardiovascular disease may need to be tested more often. But even then, testing at home isn't really necessary.

Bottom line: At-home cholesterol tests may satisfy your curiosity, but they don't provide enough information to be truly helpful.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Is Your Cholesterol Level Heart Healthy?
What is your LDL (low-density lipoprotein) level?

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or
Answer:
Desirable
0-199
Borderline
200-239
High
240+

Your level is currently

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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