A complete cholesterol test — also called a lipid panel or lipid profile — is a blood test that can measure the amount of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. A cholesterol test can help determine your risk of the buildup of plaques in your arteries that can lead to narrowed or blocked arteries throughout your body (atherosclerosis). High cholesterol levels usually don't cause any signs or symptoms, so a cholesterol test is an important tool. High cholesterol levels often are a significant risk factor for heart disease.
High cholesterol by itself usually has no signs or symptoms. A complete cholesterol test is done to determine whether your cholesterol is high and estimate your risk of developing heart disease.
A complete cholesterol test, referred to as a lipid panel or lipid profile, includes the calculation of four types of fats (lipids) in your blood:<
Total cholesterol. This is a sum of your blood's cholesterol content.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This is sometimes called the "good" cholesterol because it helps carry away LDL cholesterol, thus keeping arteries open and your blood flowing more freely.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This is sometimes called the "bad" cholesterol. Too much of it in your blood causes the buildup of fatty deposits (plaques) in your arteries (atherosclerosis), which reduces blood flow. These plaques sometimes rupture and can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
- Triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn't need into triglycerides, which are stored in fat cells. High triglyceride levels are associated with several factors, including being overweight, eating too many sweets or drinking too much alcohol, smoking, being sedentary, or having diabetes with elevated blood sugar levels.
Generally you're required to fast, consuming no food or liquids other than water, for nine to 12 hours before the test. There is some evidence that fasting doesn't make much difference in cholesterol levels, but for now, most doctors will tell you to fast. You can drink water in the time leading up to the test, but avoid coffee, tea and other beverages.
Talk to your doctor about any other special requirements. Some medications, such as birth control pills, can increase your cholesterol levels. For this reason, if you take these or other medications, your doctor might want you to stop taking them for a few days before your test. However, in some cases, if you take a medication regularly, your doctor may want you to continue it to see the effect it has on your cholesterol levels.
A cholesterol test is a blood test, usually done in the morning since you'll need to fast for the most accurate results. Blood is drawn from a vein, usually from your arm. Before the needle is inserted, the puncture site is cleaned with antiseptic and an elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. This causes the veins in your arm to fill with blood.
After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood is collected into a vial or syringe. The band is then removed to restore circulation, and blood continues to flow into the vial. Once enough blood is collected, the needle is removed and the puncture site is covered with a bandage.
The entire procedure will likely last a couple of minutes. It's relatively painless.