Cholesterol travels through the blood attached to a protein. This cholesterol-protein package is called a lipoprotein. Lipoprotein analysis (lipoprotein profile or lipid profile) measures blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
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Cholesterol and triglyceride testing is done:
Cholesterol and triglyceride screening
Some health organizations recommend that everyone older than age 20 be checked for high cholesterol.1 The Canadian Cardiovascular Society recommends cholesterol tests based on age and risk factors for heart disease.2
Talk to your doctor about when you should get a cholesterol test.
For more information, see When to Have a Cholesterol Test.
Preparation depends on the test. Ask your doctor which test you are having. You may or may not have to fast. For example, you can get a total cholesterol test or direct LDL test at any time, even if you recently had a meal or a snack. But if you get a test that measures LDL and HDL, you will fast for about 9 to 12 hours.
Many medicines may affect the results of this test. Be sure to tell your doctor about all the non-prescription 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 7 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. To help you understand the importance of this test, fill out the medical test information form (What is a PDF document?).
The health professional taking a sample of your blood will:
The blood sample is taken from a vein in your arm. An elastic band is wrapped around your upper arm. It may feel tight. You may feel nothing at all from the needle, or you may feel a quick sting or pinch.
There is very little chance of a problem from having blood sample taken from a vein.
Results are usually available within 24 hours.
Cholesterol and triglyceride levels vary according to your age and sex. The normal values listed here—called a reference range—are just a guide. These ranges vary from lab to lab, and your lab may have a different range for what’s normal. Your lab report should contain the range your lab uses. Also, your doctor will evaluate your results based on your health and other factors. This means that a value that falls outside the normal values listed here may still be normal for you or your lab.
Target cholesterol and triglyceride levels vary according to your risk of having a heart attack. The cholesterol levels given in the following table are for people at low risk of having a heart attack in the next ten years. If you are at moderate or high risk of having a heart attack, your target cholesterol levels may be different. For your actual target levels, talk to your doctor.
Below 2.6 millimoles per litre (mmol/L)
2.6 to 3.4 mmol/L
3.5 to 4.1 mmol/L
4.2 to 4.9 mmol/L
5.0 mmol/L or higher
6.2 mmol/L or above
5.1 to 6.1 mmol/L
Less than 5.1 mmol/L
1.5 mmol/L or higher
1.0 mmol/L or higher
Below 1.0 mmol/L
Less than 1.7 mmol/L
1.7 to 2.1 mmol/L
2.2 to 5.4 mmol/L
5.5 mmol/L or higher
Many conditions can affect cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Your doctor will talk with you about any abnormal results that may be related to your other health problems.
Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:
- Grundy S, et al. (2002). Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) (NIH Publication No. 02–5215). Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health. Also available online: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/cholesterol/atp3full.pdf.
- Genest J, et al. (2009). Canadian Cardiovascular Society/Canadian guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of dyslipidemia and prevention of cardiovascular disease in the adult—2009 recommendations. Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 25(10): 567–579.
Other Works Consulted
- Chernecky CC, Berger BJ (2008). Laboratory Tests and Diagnostic Procedures, 5th ed. St. Louis: Saunders.
- Fischbach FT, Dunning MB III, eds. (2009). Manual of Laboratory and Diagnostic Tests, 8th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
- Grundy SM, et al. (2004). Implications of recent clinical trials of the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III Guidelines. Circulation, 110(2): 227–239. [Erratum in Circulation, 110(6): 763.]
- Miller M, et al. (2011). Triglycerides and cardiovascular disease: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. Published online April 18, 2011 (doi:0.1161/CIR.0b013e3182160726).
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Carl Orringer, MD - Cardiology, Clinical Lipidology|
|Last Revised||October 13, 2011|
Last Revised: October 13, 2011
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