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Definition | Reasons for Test | Possible Complications | What to Expect | Call Your Doctor


Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is similar to fat. There are different types of cholesterol including:

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol

Cholesterol tests measure the levels of cholesterol in the blood. They can measure the amount of HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and your total cholesterol levels. Your doctor may use a test called the lipid profile test. This test measures the cholesterol levels plus triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat or lipid in the blood.

Reasons for Test

This test is done to measure the levels of cholesterol in the blood. Abnormal levels of cholesterol are linked to an increased risk of plaque formation in blood vessels. This plaque formation can lead to heart attacks or strokes. Your doctor will use these results to estimate your risk of heart disease. For example:

  • High LDL levels increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Low HDL levels increase the risk of heart disease.

Plaque Formation in Blood Vessel—Side Effect of High LDL Cholesterol

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Possible Complications

There are no major complications associated with this test.

What to Expect

Steps to take before the test depend on the test you are having. For example:

  • Fasting lipid profile—You will need to stop eating or drinking 9-12 hours before the test. Water is allowed during this time.
  • Total cholesterol test and total cholesterol test with HDL measurement—You do not need to fast.

You will be asked to sit. An area inside your elbow will be cleaned with an antiseptic wipe. A large band will be tied around your arm. The needle will then be inserted into a vein. A tube will collect the blood from the needle. The band on your arm will be removed. Once all the blood is collected, the needle will be removed. Some gauze will be placed over the site to help stop bleeding. You may also be given a bandage to place over the site. The process takes about 5-10 minutes.

After the blood sample is collected, you may need to stay seated for 10-15 minutes. If you are lightheaded, you may need to stay seated longer. Once you feel better, you can leave. After the blood draw, you may have pain, swelling, bruising, and bleeding.

A few minutes.

It may hurt slightly when the needle is inserted.

Talk to your doctor about your test results. Your doctor may recommend more testing done depending on your test results.

Call Your Doctor

Call your doctor if any of the following occurs:

  • You have increased redness, pain, or discharge from the blood test site.
  • You have severe bruising or swelling.

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.


American Heart Association


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute



Canadian Cardiovascular Society


Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada



Akosah KO, Schaper A, et al. Preventing myocardial infarction in the young adult in the first place: how do the National Cholesterol Education Panel III guidelines perform? J Am Coll Cardiol. 2003;41:1475-1479.

Cholesterol. Lab Tests Online website. Available at: http://labtestsonline.org/understanding/analytes/cholesterol/tab/test. Updated February 14, 2013. Accessed March 22, 2013.

Explore high cholesterol. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbc/. Updated September 19, 2012. Accessed March 22. 2013.

How to get your cholesterol tested. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/SymptomsDiagnosisMonitoringofHighCholesterol/How-To-Get-Your-Cholesterol-Tested_UCM_305595_Article.jsp. Updated June 14, 2012. Accessed March 22, 2013.

Law MR, Wald NJ. Risk factor thresholds: their existence under scrutiny. Br Med J . 2002;324:1570-1576.

Last reviewed June 2013 by Brian Randall, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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