Cholesterol Testing

How can you get Tested for High Cholesterol?

A cholesterol test is a blood test designed to check how high your cholesterol levels are.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your blood. It’s created naturally by your liver, but can also be found in certain foods. Your body needs a certain amount of cholesterol to work properly, but too much can be dangerous.

Having high cholesterol levels in your blood increases your risk of getting a stroke or developing heart disease.

If you or your doctor is worried that your cholesterol levels are too high, you might be offered a cholesterol test.

Where to Get a Check-Up

You can get tested for high cholesterol at any local GP clinic, health centre as well as some leisure centres or gyms.

Cholesterol tests are offered to everyone aged between 40 and 74 as a part of your regular NHS Health Check.

However, if you’re worried that you have high cholesterol, you can ask for a cholesterol test from your usual nurse or doctor, at any time.

Who Should Get Tested?

You should get tested for high cholesterol if you:

  • are over 40 years old
  • have had a stroke or a mini-stroke (TIA)
  • have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease, or peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
  • have a family history of heart attacks or other types of cardiovascular diseases
  • have a close family member with high cholesterol
  • are overweight or obese
  • have diabetes or high blood pressure
  • have a medical condition like kidney disease, pancreatitis, or an underactive thyroid

Ask your nurse or doctor if you’re ever unsure about whether you should have a cholesterol test.

What Should You Do To Prepare Before a Cholesterol Test?

This is a non-fasting blood test. You will not need to fast before your test. This means that you can safely consume food, beverages and medications in the 9 to 12 hours before you take your test.

What Happens During a Cholesterol Test?

Because cholesterol is found in the blood, tests for cholesterol levels take the form of a blood test.

During the blood test, your nurse or doctor will take a small sample of blood from your body. They’ll do this either by pricking your finger, or by using a needle and syringe.

This blood will then be tested for cholesterol levels. To work out whether you have a low, moderate or high risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke in the next 10 years, they’ll look at your cholesterol levels and also consider:

  • your body type or BMI (body mass index), which measures your height and weight together
  • any risk factors, like high blood pressure (hypertension) or diabetes
  • your age
  • your sex
  • your family history

From this information, your nurse or doctor will be able to calculate your risks of health problems and your cholesterol level. If your cholesterol is too high, they’ll discuss ways for you to lower your cholesterol to healthy levels.

How Reliable Are Blood Tests?

As with all tests, there’s always a small margin of error with blood tests. However, on the whole, blood tests for cholesterol are fairly reliable. You blood test results for cholesterol may be less accurate if you have not fasted properly for at least 9 hours, or have had caffeine (tea or coffee) shortly before your test.   

How Often Should You Have Check-Ups if You Have High Cholesterol?

If you’re between the ages of 40 and 75, you should be having your cholesterol tested every 5 years.

If you have high cholesterol already, you should be going for check-ups more often, as indicated by your nurse or doctor.

If you’re on medication that affects (raises or lowers) your cholesterol, you should have your cholesterol tested about every 12 months.

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