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Lipid Profile - Cholesterol Test

Overview & Description

A cholesterol test measures the total amount of cholesterol in the blood. It is generally done along with blood tests that measure a person's HDL, also known as the good carrier for cholesterol and LDL, or the so-called bad carrier for cholesterol. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is used for many body processes.

Who is a candidate for the procedure?

A cholesterol test may be ordered to evaluate a person's risk for various conditions. Adults 20 years or over should be tested every five years for cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. High cholesterol levels increase a person's risk for the following conditions:

  • arteriosclerosis, or narrowing of the arteries
  • coronary heart disease, or CHD
  • early death from heart disease
  • heart attack
  • stroke
  • A cholesterol test may also be ordered to evaluate disorders of the kidney, liver, or thyroid gland.

    How is the test performed?

    A blood sample needs to be taken in order to measure the level of blood cholesterol. The blood is usually drawn from a vein in the forearm or the hand. First, the skin over the vein is cleaned with an antiseptic. Next, a strong rubber tube called a tourniquet is wrapped around the upper arm. This enlarges the veins in the lower arm by restricting blood flow through them. A very thin needle is gently inserted into a vein and the tourniquet is removed. Blood flows from the vein through the needle and is collected in a syringe or vial. The sample is sent to the lab to be analyzed. After the needle is withdrawn, the puncture site is covered for a short time to prevent bleeding.

    Preparation & Expectations

    What is involved in preparation for the test?

    A cholesterol test is generally done after the individual has fasted overnight.

    Results and Values

    What do the test results mean?

    Total cholesterol results are evaluated as follows:

  • desirable range is less than 200 milligrams per deciliter or mg/dL
  • borderline-high is 200 to 239 mg/dL
  • high cholesterol is 240 mg/dL or greater
  • Abnormally high levels of blood cholesterol may indicate the following:

  • atherosclerosis
  • biliary cirrhosis, which is scarring and blockage of the bile ducts
  • diet high in cholesterol, saturated fats, calories, or transfats
  • familial hyperlipidemia, a condition in which high blood lipids run in a family
  • heart attack
  • high stress
  • hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland
  • lack of exercise
  • nephrotic syndrome, which is a kidney disease resulting in loss of protein in the urine
  • overweight or obesity
  • uncontrolled diabetes
  • Abnormally low levels of cholesterol may indicate the following:

  • hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid gland
  • liver disease
  • malabsorption, or inadequate absorption of nutrients from the intestines
  • malnutrition
  • A person's LDL level is also extremely important in evaluating his or her risk for CHD.


    Author:David T. Moran, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Ballenberg, Sally, BS
    Edit Date:05/31/01
    Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed:05/23/01