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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Medical Devices

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Cholesterol

What this test does: This is a home-use test kit to measure total cholesterol.

What cholesterol is: Cholesterol is a fat (lipid) in your blood. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) ("good" cholesterol) helps protect your heart, but low-density lipoprotein (LDL) ("bad" cholesterol) can clog the arteries of your heart. Some cholesterol tests also measure triglycerides, another type of fat in the blood.

What type of test this is: This is a quantitative test—you find out the amount of total cholesterol present in your sample.

Why you should do this test: You should do this test to find out if you have high total cholesterol. High cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease. When the blood vessels of your heart become clogged by cholesterol, your heart does not receive enough oxygen. This can cause heart disease.

How often you should do this test: If you are more than 20 years old, you should test your cholesterol about every 5 years. If your doctor has you on a special diet or drugs to control your cholesterol, you may need to check your cholesterol more frequently. Follow your doctor's recommendations about how often you test your cholesterol.

What you cholesterol levels should be: Your total cholesterol level should be 200mg/dL or less, according to recommendations in the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Third Adult Treatment Panel (ATP III). You should try to keep your LDL values less than 100 mg/dL, your HDL values greater or equal to 40 mg/dL, and your triglyceride values less than 150 mg/dL.

How accurate this test is: This test is about as accurate as the test your doctor uses, but you must follow the directions carefully.

Total cholesterol tests vary in accuracy from brand to brand. Information about the test's accuracy is printed on its package. Tests that say they are "traceable" to a program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be more accurate than others.

What to do you if your test shows high cholesterol: Talk to your doctor if your test shows that your cholesterol is higher than 200 mg/dL. Many things can cause high cholesterol levels including diet, exercise, and other factors. Your doctor may want you to test your cholesterol again.

How you do this test: You prick your finger with a lancet to get a drop of blood. Then put the drop of blood on a piece paper that contains special chemicals. The paper will change color depending on how much cholesterol is in your blood. Some testing kits use a small machine to tell you how much cholesterol there is in the sample.