More than 70 million adults in the United States have high cholesterol, and more than 60% of these adults don’t have their condition under control. Treatment and management of high cholesterol is essential to reduce your risk of developing heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. But the first step in managing the condition is diagnosing it, which can’t be done without a blood test.
Because high cholesterol doesn’t usually cause symptoms, testing is critical to identify whether you have the condition. You can get tested through your provider, and several at-home cholesterol tests are also available.
In this article, I’ll explain how at-home cholesterol tests work and the benefits and drawbacks of this testing option.
What Is a Cholesterol Test?
A cholesterol test is a simple blood test used to screen for high cholesterol levels. When administered through your provider, this test may be referred to as a lipid panel. Cholesterol tests administered through your provider measure your total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL), and triglyceride (a kind of fat found in the blood) levels.
Some at-home tests only measure total cholesterol levels, but others capture all four measurements. If you choose to test at home, search for a test that measures your total, LDL, and HDL cholesterol levels as well as your triglyceride levels.
In some cases, you may be asked to fast for 9-12 hours before taking a cholesterol test. For this reason, many people prefer to take their cholesterol tests first thing in the morning.
How Do At-Home Cholesterol Tests Work?
There are typically two types of at-home cholesterol tests: tests that use test strips and a lancet and tests that use an electronic meter.
To use a test kit that comes with test strips and a lancet (also known as a small blade or needle), you prick your finger with the lancet to draw a small sample of blood. The blood is placed on the test strip, which then changes colors after a few minutes. You then use the guide that comes with the test kit to interpret your results and determine your cholesterol levels.
Tests with an electronic meter work similarly, but rather than interpreting your results manually, you insert the test strips into the meter to be interpreted electronically. These tests are generally more expensive.
You may also find at-home cholesterol tests in which you mail your results into a laboratory for testing.
Regardless of which type of test you choose, follow the instructions carefully in order to get the most accurate results possible.
Benefits of At-Home Cholesterol Tests
There are several benefits to at-home cholesterol testing, including:
- Convenience: Rather than wait for an appointment with your provider or nearby laboratory, you test any time in the convenience and comfort of your own home. Tests can also be purchased at your local drug store or online and don’t require a provider’s prescription.
- Cost: Depending on your insurance coverage, some at-home tests may cost less than the cost of an in-person visit with your provider.
- Speed: Most at-home cholesterol tests provide results within minutes. When getting tested through your provider, you may have to wait several days to receive the results.
There are also several drawbacks to at-home testing that are important to consider when weighing your testing options:
- Limited measurements: When testing your cholesterol levels, it’s important to measure your total cholesterol levels as well as your LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels. However, not all at-home tests include all four of these measurements.
- User error: Many at-home cholesterol tests provide results that are as accurate as provider tests, but only when instructions are followed carefully. Any errors committed during the testing process will affect the accuracy of your results.
- Lack of medical oversight: At-home testing should not replace guidance from your provider. If your at-home test results indicate that you have high cholesterol, speak with your provider about these results and a treatment plan.
Are At-Home Cholesterol Tests Accurate?
Many at-home cholesterol tests provide accurate results. But in order to get accurate results it’s crucial that you:
- Follow the instructions carefully
- Choose a test that’s recommended by the FDA or sold by a reputable laboratory
Interpreting Your Results
Most at-home cholesterol tests come with a guide explaining how to interpret your results. In general, high cholesterol is defined as having total cholesterol levels of 200 mg/dL or more, or HDL cholesterol levels less than 40 mg/dL and/or LDL cholesterol levels 160 mg/Dl or higher.
Tips for Choosing an At-Home Cholesterol Test
Here are our recommendations for selecting an at-home cholesterol test.
Check the FDA’s list of approved at-home cholesterol tests
Not all at-home cholesterol tests are tested by the FDA. To select a test that is approved by the FDA, search the FDA’s database of approved home and lab tests.
Read reviews from other users
Researching reviews from other users may help you determine whether a particular test isright for you.
Talk to your doctor about which test is right for you
When in doubt, ask your provider about which at-home testing option is right for you. Keep in mind that depending on your health and unique circumstances, your provider may recommend coming into their office for a cholesterol test.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Cholesterol Levels. (2022.)
Find All FDA-Approved Home and Lab Tests. (2017.)
Heart Disease Facts. (2022.)
High Blood Pressure and Cholesterol. (2011.)