Symptoms and Diagnosis

High cholesterol doesn’t have obvious symptoms, so the only way to know your cholesterol levels is to get your blood checked. Your health care professional can order the test, which may or may not require fasting.

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Symptoms

High cholesterol does not cause symptoms. Instead, it is found during a blood test that measures cholesterol levels.

Diagnosis

High cholesterol is diagnosed with a blood test. The test measures the level of total cholesterol plus the levels of various types of cholesterol and fats in your blood. These include LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. High cholesterol levels don't cause symptoms. A blood test is the only way to know your cholesterol levels.

Any of the following doctors, nurses, or specialists can order a cholesterol test and treat high cholesterol:

  • Nurse practitioner
  • Physician assistant
  • Family medicine physician
  • Internist
  • Cardiologist
  • Endocrinologist

A registered dietitian can help you with a diet to lower your cholesterol.

People who have rare lipid disorders, which can be hard to treat, may need to see a specialist, such as a lipidologist or an endocrinologist.

Who should be screened

Doctors use differing guidelines to decide when a person should have a cholesterol test.

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

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 people ages 40 to 75.

How often to be screened

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.

Cholesterol tests for children and teens

Your child's doctor may suggest a cholesterol test based on your child's age or family history or a physical exam. You can ask your child's doctor if your child should have a cholesterol test. There are different recommendations that doctors may follow.

How cholesterol and triglycerides tests are done

Preparation may depend on the type of test you are having. You may or may not have to fast.

  • If your doctor tells you to fast before your test, do not eat or drink anything except water for 9 to 12 hours before having your blood drawn. Usually, you are allowed to take your medicines with water the morning of the test. Fasting is not always necessary, but it may be recommended.
  • Do not eat high-fat foods the night before the test.
  • Do not drink alcohol or exercise strenuously before the test.

Many medicines may affect the results of this test. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the nonprescription and prescription medicines and herbs or natural substances you take.

Tell your doctor if you have had a test such as a thyroid or bone scan that uses a radioactive substance within the last seven days.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns you have regarding the need for the test, its risks, how it will be done, or what the results will mean.

The health professional taking a sample of your blood will:

  • Wrap an elastic band around your upper arm to stop the flow of blood. This makes the veins below the band larger so it is easier to put a needle into the vein.
  • Clean the needle site with alcohol.
  • Put the needle into the vein. More than one needle stick may be needed.
  • Attach a tube to the needle to fill it with blood.
  • Remove the band from your arm when enough blood is collected.
  • Put a gauze pad or cotton ball over the needle site as the needle is removed.
  • Put pressure on the site and then put on a bandage.

©2019 Healthwise, Incorporated. This information does not replace the advice of a doctor.

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Causes & Risk Factors

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Prevention

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Diagnosis

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Complications

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Treatment

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Management

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