High cholesterol levels are directly related to increased risk of heart attack, heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association, or AHA, and MayoClinic.Com advise that you get your first cholesterol test at age 20 and follow up with another screening every 5 years. A home test for cholesterol and triglycerides purports to give you the same information about your blood cholesterol as a laboratory test ordered by your treating physician.
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About Cholesterol Testing
The cholesterol test your doctor orders is also known as a lipid panel or lipid profile, says MayoClinic.Com. This test looks at four different types of lipids, or fats, circulating in your blood. A cholesterol test measures your total cholesterol in its entirety. However, it also looks at your low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, and high-density lipoprotein, or HDL, cholesterol. LDL cholesterol – "bad" cholesterol – is what you want to keep well under control; excess amounts of it encourage fatty plaque build-up in your arteries. HDL cholesterol, on the other hand, is your "good" cholesterol, which removes cholesterol particles that stick to your artery walls. Triglycerides are yet another type of fat found in your blood; whenever you consume too many calories, the excess is absorbed into fat cells. According to MayoClinic.Com, high triglyceride levels are usually noted in diabetics, people who indulge in too much sugar and/or alcohol and those who are overweight.
Various types of home cholesterol tests are on the market. Some measure only your total blood cholesterol, while others provide a breakdown of your HDL and LDL cholesterol and triglycerides as well. The cholesterol test your doctor orders is a type of blood test, says MayoClinic.Com; it's done after you've been fasting to ensure accuracy. During a conventional laboratory test, blood is drawn from a vein in the crook of your arm using a needle and syringe. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, explains that home cholesterol tests instruct you to use a lancet to prick the tip of your finger to get a small blood sample. The sample is then placed on chemically-treated paper that reacts with your blood. A more sophisticated home test for cholesterol and triglycerides may use a small machine to give your readings.
If you use a home cholesterol test, the FDA advises you to defer to the National Cholesterol Education Program's recommendations. Your total blood cholesterol should be 200 mg/dL or less. LDL cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL; HDL cholesterol levels should be at 40 mg/dL or higher; and triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dL. Contact your treating physician if your findings are not within the acceptable range; he or she may want to have you retested.
According to the FDA, a home test for cholesterol and trigycerides can be about as accurate as the laboratory test your doctor orders if you follow the instructions on your test kit exactly. The AHA has not issued a position statement on home cholesterol testing devices. Mayo Clinic cardiologist Thomas Behrenbeck, M.D. cautions, however, that home tests shouldn't replace the test your doctor orders. Even laboratory testing conducted by trained professionals can yield varying results, he points out, and this can be doubly true for home tests.
If you do choose a home cholesterol test, remember that the brand name also matters. Look for a product that is "traceable" to a program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the FDA, these may give you more reliable results.