Also Known As
HDL
HDL-C
"good" cholesterol
Formal Name
High-density lipoprotein cholesterol
This article was last reviewed on
This article waslast modified on 29 October 2017.
At a Glance
Why Get Tested?

To screen for risk of developing cardiovascular disease (heart disease, stroke and related diseases); to monitor treatment

When To Get Tested?

Aged 40 as part of a routine cardiovascular health check, or if you are already thought to be at risk of cardiovascular disease for another reason.

Sample Required?

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

Test Preparation Needed?

No fasting is needed for an HDL-cholesterol test. However, you should follow your doctor's advice as fasting might be needed for other tests being performed.

On average it takes 7 working days for the blood test results to come back from the hospital, depending on the exact tests requested. Some specialist test results may take longer, if samples have to be sent to a reference (specialist) laboratory. The X-ray & scan results may take longer. If you are registered to use the online services of your local practice, you will be able to access your results online.

If the doctor wants to see you about the result(s), you will be offered an appointment. If you are concerned about your test results, you will need to arrange an appointment with your doctor so that all relevant information including age, ethnicity, health history, signs and symptoms, laboratory and other procedures (radiology, endoscopy, etc.), can be considered.

Lab Tests Online-UK is an educational website designed to provide patients and carers with information on laboratory tests used in medical care. We are not a laboratory and are unable to comment on an individual's health and treatment.

Reference ranges are dependent on many factors, including patient age, gender, sample population, and test method, and numeric test results can have different meanings in different laboratories.

For these reasons, you will not find reference ranges for the majority of tests described on this web site. The lab report containing your test results should include the relevant reference range for your test(s). Please consult your doctor or the laboratory that performed the test(s) to obtain the reference range if you do not have the lab report.

For more information on reference ranges, please read Reference Ranges and What They Mean.

What is being tested?

HDL is one of the classes of lipoproteins that carry cholesterol in the blood. HDL is thought to be beneficial because it removes excess cholesterol from tissues and carries it to the liver for disposal. Hence HDL cholesterol is often called “good” cholesterol. The test for HDL measures the amount of cholesterol carried on HDL particles in blood.

How is the sample collected for testing?

Testing for HDL cholesterol requires a blood sample. Most often, the blood sample is collected by venepuncture (using a needle to collect blood from a vein in the arm). Occasionally a fingerprick test can be used, although this is not commonly available in GP practices or hospitals in the UK.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

No fasting is needed for an HDL-cholesterol test. In the past, a full lipid profile (which includes HDL-cholesterol) would require fasting, but this changed in 2014. However, even the full lipid profile no longer requires fasting. On the other hand, there may be circumstances when fasting is still required, so you should follow instructions given by your doctor.

Accordion Title
Common Questions
  • How is it used?

    HDL-cholesterol testing is usually used to help find out your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you have a high cholesterol, your doctor may wish to know if this is mainly due to non-HDL cholesterol (bad) or to HDL-cholesterol (good). Usually it due to having high non-HDL cholesterol, unfortunately.

    Your HDL-cholesterol can be used, along with total cholesterol and other factors, in "risk calculators" such as QRISK2, which estimate your future risk of getting cardiovascular disease. The value which is entered into the calculator is actually the "total cholesterol to HDL-C ratio", ie the balance between total cholesterol and good cholesterol. Knowing your future risk can guide decisions on making lifestyle changes or starting medical treatments.

  • When is it requested?

    HDL is usually requested with other tests, either with cholesterol or as part of a lipid profile, including non-HDL and triglycerides. This is done during a routine cardiovascular risk assessment, which GPs offer to people aged 40 or over. If your doctor thinks you could be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease for another reason, they may recommend HDL testing at other times.

  • What does the test result mean?

    High levels of HDL cholesterol are better than low HDL cholesterol. The higher your HDL cholesterol level, the lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This is because HDL carries cholesterol away from the artery walls and back to the liver, where it is eliminated.

    Other factors can affect your HDL cholesterol result. For example, physical exercise and moderate alcohol consumption increase your HDL cholesterol, whereas smoking reduces it.

  • Is there anything else I should know?

    HDL cholesterol should not be measured when a person is suddenly unwell. Cholesterol is temporarily low during sudden illness, immediately following a heart attack, or during stress (like from surgery or an accident). You should wait at least 6 weeks after any illness to have cholesterol measured. In women, HDL cholesterol may change during pregnancy. You should wait at least six weeks after your baby is born to have your HDL-cholesterol measured. 

  • My HDL is high. Is this a problem?

    No. High HDL is very good - the higher the better.