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When to Have a Cholesterol Test - Topic Overview

Talk to your doctor about when a cholesterol test is right for you.

Doctors use different guidelines to decide when a person should have a cholesterol test. Your doctor might suggest a test based on your age or your risk factors for heart disease.

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When should adults get tested?

Some health organizations recommend that everyone ages 20 to 79 be checked every 4 to 6 years for the risk of heart attack and stroke. This would include a cholesterol test.1

Other organizations recommend cholesterol tests based on age and risk factors for heart disease. For example, a test might be recommended for all teens and young adults ages 17 to 21 years. Or a test might be recommended for any adult who has strong risk factors for heart disease.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends cholesterol tests for:2

  • Men age 35 and older.
  • Men ages 20 to 35 who have risk factors for heart disease.
  • Women age 20 and older who have risk factors for heart disease.

How often should adults get tested?

How often you should get a cholesterol test depends on your cholesterol level, your other health problems, and your overall chance of heart disease.

An adult who is being treated for high cholesterol may need more frequent tests, depending on his or her cholesterol level and the type of treatment being used.

An adult who has coronary artery disease should have a cholesterol test at least once a year.

Most adults who have diabetes should be tested at least once a year.3

When should children get tested?

Your child's doctor may suggest a cholesterol test for your child or teen based on your child's age, family history, or a physical exam.4

For more information, see Cholesterol in Children and Teens.

Should I get a public cholesterol test?

Public cholesterol testing can be convenient and helpful. But most doctors will want to verify public test results. Because the doctor can evaluate risk factors and provide counseling, having your cholesterol level checked during a doctor visit is the preferred method.

The reliability of public cholesterol tests at health fairs, malls, drugstores, and other sites depends on many factors, including:

  • What kind of blood sample is used (finger stick or a sample drawn from a vein).
  • What type of equipment is used.
  • Whether the equipment is used properly.
  • How well the technicians have been trained.

You may wish to ask the technicians how much training they have had and how your blood sample will be handled.

More information

For more information, see:

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 12, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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    When to Have a Cholesterol Test Topics

    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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