Getting a cholesterol test
We recommend that all adults should get a cholesterol check, no matter what your age or how healthy you feel.
High cholesterol doesn't usually have any signs or symptoms, and it can be caused by your genes, so we advise getting a check even if you are young, fit and feel healthy.
High cholesterol can lead to heart attacks and strokes. A cholesterol test, along with other simple tests including a blood pressure test, BMI and waist measurement, will give you a good idea of your heart health and show you if you need to make any lifestyle changes or need treatment.
A cholesterol check involves a simple blood test. Your healthcare professional should also check another blood fat called triglycerides, as these also affect your heart health.
Where can I get a test?
There are three main ways you can get a test.
- Visit your pharmacist.
- Visit your GP.
- Get an NHS Health Check.
Can I test my own cholesterol at home?
It’s better to have your cholesterol tested by a professional because taking blood and measuring cholesterol levels is a skilled job and your results will be affected by the way you do the test. Going to a health professional means you will get an accurate reading.
We don’t recommend home sampling, but if you do decide to test your cholesterol at home, follow these simple steps to take your sample safely and get a more accurate result.
What does a cholesterol check involve?
A cholesterol test involves a simple blood test, this can be done in two ways:
- A finger prick test, which is quick, you only feel a small pinch, and the results can be checked there and then.
- A small blood sample taken from your arm using a needle and syringe, which will be sent off for testing.
You can eat and drink normally before your test unless your doctor asks you not to. If you have a sample taken with a needle and syringe, you might be asked not to eat for 10-12 hours beforehand, usually overnight.
When should I have a cholesterol check?
We believe all adults should know their cholesterol numbers, no matter what your age. Even if you haven’t been invited for a cholesterol check, it’s a good idea to have one anyway because it’s the only way to know your cholesterol numbers.
You should also be offered a free cholesterol test by the NHS if:
You are aged 40-74Your GP should invite you for an NHS health check once every five years from the age of 40 to 74. The NHS health check is designed to spot the early signs of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, diabetes and dementia. You’ll be weighed and measured, have a cholesterol check and a blood pressure check, and you’ll be asked some simple questions about your health.
You are at high risk of heart diseaseYour GP or practice nurse might also offer you a cholesterol test if you are more likely to develop heart disease. For example, if other people in your family have had it, you smoke, you’re overweight, or you have high blood pressure, diabetes or certain other health problems.
You have been diagnosed with heart diseaseOr other related illnesses such as stroke, mini stroke (TIA) or peripheral arterial disease (PAD).
You are taking medicines to lower your cholesterolYou should be offered a test every year.
You have a close relative with familial hypercholesterolemia (FH)If your mother, father, brother, sister or child has high cholesterol due to a genetic (inherited) condition such as FH, you should be offered a test when you find out as this type of high cholesterol runs in families.
Children of people with FH should be given a cholesterol check by the age of 10.
When should I not have a cholesterol test?
Cholesterol and triglycerides naturally rise during pregnancy, as they're needed to make hormones and for the growth and development of the baby.
Cholesterol tests are not helpful during pregnancy as they can't give an true picture of a woman’s usual cholesterol levels.