When to Have a Cholesterol Test

Topic Overview

Doctors use different guidelines to decide when a person should have a cholesterol test. Your doctor might suggest a test based on your age or your risk factors for heart disease.

Talk to your doctor about when a cholesterol test is right for you.

When should adults get tested?

Some health organizations recommend that everyone older than 20 be checked for high cholesterol.footnote 1 The Canadian Cardiovascular Society recommends cholesterol tests based on age and risk factors for heart disease.footnote 2 Talk to your doctor about when you should get a cholesterol test.

Canadian experts agree that the following people should have their cholesterol checked:

    • Anyone who has strong risk factors for heart disease
    • People who have a family history of early coronary artery disease
    • Men age 40 and older.
    • Women age 40 and older or who are post-menopausal

How often should adults get tested?

How often you should get a cholesterol test depends on your cholesterol level, your other health problems, and your overall chance of heart disease.

An adult who is being treated for high cholesterol may need more frequent tests, depending on his or her cholesterol level and the type of treatment being used.

An adult who has coronary artery disease should have a cholesterol test at least once a year.

Most adults who have diabetes should be tested once a year or as often your doctor recommends.footnote 3

When should children get tested?

Your child's doctor may suggest a cholesterol test for your child or teenager based on your child's age, family history, or a physical examination.

The Canadian Cardiovascular Society suggests that children with a family history of very high cholesterol levels or early-onset CAD may need to begin tests at an earlier age.footnote 4 Talk to your child's doctor about when he or she should get a cholesterol test.

Should I get a public cholesterol test?

Public cholesterol testing can be convenient and helpful. But most doctors will want to verify public test results. Because the doctor can evaluate risk factors and provide counselling, having your cholesterol level checked during a doctor visit is the preferred method.

The reliability of public cholesterol tests at health fairs, malls, pharmacies, and other sites depends on many factors, including:

  • What kind of blood sample is used (finger stick or a sample drawn from a vein).
  • What type of equipment is used.
  • Whether the equipment is used properly.
  • How well the technicians have been trained.

You may wish to ask the technicians how much training they have had and how your blood sample will be handled.

More information

For more information, see:



  1. 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.
  2. Anderson T, et al. (2012). 2012 update of the Canadian Cardiovascular Society guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of dyslipidemia for the prevention of cardiovascular disease in the adult. Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 29(2): 151–167.
  3. Mancini GB, et al. (2013). Canadian Diabetes Association 2013 Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada: Dyslipidema. Canadian Journal of Diabetes, 37(suppl 1): S110–S116. http://guidelines.diabetes.ca/Browse/Chapter24. Accessed February 11, 2015
  4. 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

  • Stone NJ, et al. (2013). 2013 ACC/AHA guideline on the treatment of blood cholesterol to reduce atherosclerotic cardiovascular risk in adults: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation, published online November 12, 2013. DOI: 10.1161/01.cir.0000437738.63853.7a. Accessed November 18, 2013.


Adaptation Date: 11/5/2019

Adapted By: HealthLink BC

Adaptation Reviewed By: HealthLink BC

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