Cholesterol Test

Print this article
Share this page:
Also known as: Blood cholesterol; total cholesterol

At a Glance

Why Get Tested?

To screen for risk of developing heart disease

When to Get Tested?

  • If you already know you have heart disease (angina, heart attack)
  • If there is a family history of high cholesterol, or of heart disease at an early age
  • If you have risk factors which put you at an increased chance of developing heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or you are a smoker
  • If you are taking drugs to lower your cholesterol level
  • Sample Required?

    A blood sample taken from a vein in the arm or a finger

    The Test Sample

    What is being tested?

    Cholesterol is a substance that is essential for life. It helps form the membranes for cells in all organs and tissues in your body. It is used to make hormones that are essential for development, growth and reproduction. It forms bile acids that are needed to absorb nutrients from food. A small amount of your body’s cholesterol circulates in the blood in complex particles called lipoproteins. These lipoproteins include some particles that carry excess cholesterol away for disposal (see HDL, good cholesterol) and some particles that deposit cholesterol in tissues and organs (see LDL, bad cholesterol). The test for cholesterol measures all cholesterol (good and bad) that is carried in the blood by lipoproteins. Cholesterol comes from your diet, and is also made in your liver.

    Your body produces the necessary quantity of cholesterol for your body to work properly but some cholesterol is also provided by your diet. If you have inherited a high cholesterol levels or if you eat too much of the foods which are high in cholesterol or saturated fats then levels of cholesterol in your blood may increase and have a bad effect on your health. The extra cholesterol in your blood may be deposited on the walls of the blood vessels. The cholesterol is deposited as plaques and can narrow and eventually block the opening of blood vessels leading to hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and and increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

    How is the sample collected for testing?

    Blood sample is usually collected from a vein in your arm. Sometimes cholesterol is measured using a drop of blood collected by puncturing the skin on a finger. A finger sample is typically used when cholesterol is being measured on a portable testing device. A high reading should always be confirmed by testing a blood sample taken from a vein in your arm.

    NOTE: If undergoing medical tests makes you or someone you care for anxious, embarrassed, or even difficult to manage, you might consider reading one or more of the following articles: Coping with Test Pain, Discomfort, and Anxiety, Tips on Blood Testing, Tips to Help Children through Their Medical Tests, and Tips to Help the Elderly through Their Medical Tests.

    Another article, Follow That Sample, provides a glimpse at the collection and processing of a blood sample and throat culture.

    The Test

    Common Questions

    Ask a Laboratory Scientist

    Article Sources

    « Return to Related Pages

    NOTE: This article is based on research that utilizes the sources cited here as well as the collective experience of the Lab Tests Online Editorial Review Board. This article is periodically reviewed by the Editorial Board and may be updated as a result of the review. Any new sources cited will be added to the list and distinguished from the original sources used.