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Most doctors recommend that adults check their cholesterol at least every five years. Some doctors recommend yearly testing for men and women who have a family history of heart disease or are middle-aged or older. If you're taking medications to lower your cholesterol, more frequent testing may be appropriate. Your doctor can give you guidance as to how often you should check your cholesterol level based on your history.
Elevated cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. There are two types of cholesterol. LDL-cholesterol is often called the "bad" cholesterol because abnormally high levels are a risk factor for heart disease. HDL-cholesterol, the "good" form of cholesterol, lowers the risk for heart disease. Therefore, a higher level is desirable. Just as you should know your blood pressure, it's important to know your cholesterol levels too since both are risk factors for heart disease. A high cholesterol level causes no symptoms. The only way to know whether yours is high is to test it and follow it over time.
Cholesterol tests are available that allow you to accurately test your cholesterol level at home. With these tests, you use a lancet to prick your skin to get blood for the test. With some testing kits you can read the results in as little as 30 seconds. Other tests take a bit longer, up to 12 minutes or so. All cholesterol test kits allow you to check total cholesterol. Some also measure your HDL-cholesterol, the good kind. Knowing your HDL-cholesterol is helpful because it will help your doctor better evaluate your risk for heart disease.
Home cholesterol testing systems usually operate on batteries and come with complete instructions on how to accurately check your cholesterol. Once you know your HDL-cholesterol and total cholesterol, divide your total cholesterol by HDL-cholesterol to determine your cardiac risk score. Then share these values with your doctor to find out what you can do to lower your risk for heart disease. Some home cholesterol tests store a number of cholesterol readings so you can easily refer back to them and see how your cholesterol level has changed over time. Just because your cholesterol level is low at one time doesn't mean it'll stay that way. That's why you should test it regularly.
After testing your cholesterol at home, keep a careful record of the values to show your doctor. When evaluating the results, your doctor will take into account other risk factors that you might have for heart disease such as family history, high blood pressure, smoking etc. Not everyone with high cholesterol needs to take medications. In some cases, you can lower a high cholesterol level through diet and lifestyle changes. Talk to your doctor about what changes you need to take based on your results.
At-home cholesterol tests offer a fast and convenient way to measure your cholesterol level but they're not a substitute for medical care. Even if you test your cholesterol at home, see your health care provider regularly.