Also known as blood cholesterol, total cholesterol
What is a cholesterol total test?
A total cholesterol test is a blood test that estimates the amount of each type of cholesterol and certain fats in your blood. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance present in your blood and all cells of your body. Cholesterol is essential to maintain your cells and organs healthy. Your liver produces all the cholesterol required by your body. However, you can also get cholesterol from the foods you eat. Foods high in dietary fat allow your liver to produce more cholesterol.
Types of Cholesterol
Two main types of cholesterol are
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as bad cholesterol
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL), also known as good cholesterol
When you have excessive LDL in your blood, it increases the risks of having heart disease and different severe illnesses. In contrast, high LDL levels can promote plaque build-up, a fatty substance that constricts the arteries and hinders normal blood flow. When blood flow to the heart is obstructed, it may result in a heart attack. Similarly, when blood flow to the brain is compromised, it can lead to stroke and peripheral artery disease.
What is the test used for?
You may not experience any symptoms if you have high cholesterol, but you could significantly risk heart disease. A cholesterol test can provide your health care provider with important information about the cholesterol levels in your blood. The test is used to measure:
- LDL levels: LDL is the leading cause of blockages in the arteries.
- HDL levels: Considered good cholesterol, they help get rid of bad cholesterol.
- Total cholesterol. The total cholesterol test helps measure the blood's combined LDL and HDL levels.
- Triglycerides are fats present in your blood. Some studies suggest that high levels of triglycerides may increase the risk of heart disease, especially in females.
- VLDL levels. Very low-density lipoprotein is another "bad" cholesterol type. High VLDL is associated with plaque development in the arteries. However, it's not convenient to measure VLDL, so usually, these levels are evaluated based on triglyceride measurements.
Why and when do you need a total cholesterol test?
High cholesterol usually causes no signs or symptoms. A total cholesterol test is ordered to assess whether your cholesterol is above the normal ranges and evaluate your risk of heart attacks and other forms of heart disease.
You might need a total cholesterol test as a part of a routine health checkup or if you already have some conditions such as;
- Type 2 diabetes
- If you are a smoker
- Excess weight
- Sedentary lifestyle
- A diet rich in saturated fats
Your age might also contribute as a risk factor because your risk for heart disease increases as you get older.
What kind of sample is required for the test?
Checking your cholesterol level will require you to give a sample of your blood.
A blood test is usually a simple procedure that is painless and takes only a few minutes.
- Firstly, the puncture site is cleaned with antiseptic, and a phlebotomist will wrap an elastic band around your arm. It causes the veins in your arm to fill with blood.
- Then he will insert the needle into your vein.
- After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood is collected into a vial or syringe.
- The band is then removed to revive circulation, and blood flows into the vial.
- Once enough blood is collected, the needle is removed, and the puncture site is covered with a bandage.
Do you need to prepare for the test?
Your doctor will probably ask you to have your blood drawn in the morning if you fast the night before. If you only need to get your HDL and total cholesterol levels checked, you may be allowed to eat before the test. However, if you have a complete lipid profile checked, avoid eating or drinking anything other than water for almost nine to 12 hours before your test.
Before your test, it is also advised to consult your doctor about the following:
- If you have any symptoms or other health conditions.
- Your family history is related to heart health and any medications or supplements you take.
- If you are on birth control pills or other medications that could increase your cholesterol, your doctor might ask you to stop taking these medicines before the test.
Are there any risks to this test?
There is usually a little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruise at the spot where the needle was put in. There's also a minimal risk of infection at the puncture site. However, most symptoms go away quickly.
What do the test results mean?
Cholesterol levels are usually estimated in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood.
Total cholesterol is ranked as follows:
- Normal Range: Less than 200 mg/dL
- Borderline high: 200-239 mg/dL
- High level: 240 mg/dL and above
If your cholesterol numbers are above the normal range, you may be at a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and atherosclerosis. If your test results are abnormal, your doctor may order a blood glucose test to check for diabetes.
High cholesterol is the leading cause of diabetes; you cannot control some cholesterol risk factors, such as your age or hereditary factors. However, specific changes to your lifestyle can help lower your LDL levels and reduce your risk, including:
- Eat healthy: Opt for fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid consuming foods high in saturated fats and cholesterol can help decrease the cholesterol levels in your blood.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight can add to the risks of heart disease and increase your cholesterol levels.
- Stay fit and moving: Regular exercise may help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and raise your HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Always consult your health care provider before making any significant change to your diet or exercise routine.
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