Home cholesterol tests: What you need to know
Cholesterol is a substance that travels through your bloodstream as waxy, fat-like lipoproteins. There are two types of cholesterol: High-density lipoprotein (HDL), which is good for your health, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL), too much of which is bad for your health.
Your body uses cholesterol to create hormones and vitamins. Your body naturally creates cholesterol, but you can also get it — both HDL and LDL — from certain foods.
These foods can include:
- full-fat dairy, such as cheese
- seafood, such as prawns
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2009 and 2016, around 1 in 5 teenagers in the United States had unhealthy cholesterol measurements. There are no noticeable symptoms of high cholesterol. You will likely be unaware you have it unless you get a test done.
Cholesterol tests work by measuring the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL).
Tests that medical professionals carry out measure the different types of cholesterol:
- HDL cholesterol: This kind of cholesterol helps remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream. This kind isn’t harmful to your health. One 2017 study notes that higher HDL cholesterol levels are associated with better outcomes in patients with coronary heart disease.
- LDL cholesterol: LDL cholesterol has certain health risks. Excess LDL can cause cholesterol to build up on the walls of your arteries. This can increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes.
- Triglycerides: These are the molecules produced when your body breaks down fats from food. Excess triglycerides can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Drinking excessive alcohol or eating a high calorie diet can increase the amounts of triglycerides in the bloodstream.
Some at-home cholesterol tests measure total cholesterol. This includes HDL, LDL, and 20% of triglyceride measurement. This varies between providers, along with the accuracy of these tests. Some at-home tests send samples to labs for analysis, and in some, you place the test strip into a machine at home.
At-home tests vs. other tests: What are the differences?
Typically, at-home cholesterol tests provide results that are as accurate as the tests healthcare professionals use. Still, the cholesterol tests that healthcare professionals use provide more details. These details are important for determining the actual state of your cardiovascular health.
Most cholesterol tests involve taking blood via a finger prick and analyzing the cholesterol levels in it.
At-home tests measure only your total cholesterol. This is the total amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream, regardless of the type. This means that these tests can generate results faster.
The tests that professionals use include a lipid profile. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they measure:
- total cholesterol
At-home tests do not measure these different types of cholesterol. This means that the results you receive from at-home tests are unable to tell you whether you are at risk of a cardiovascular problem, or whether you need to address or change your lifestyle.
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Are at-home tests accurate?
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), at-home cholesterol tests can be as accurate as the tests healthcare professionals use. But this requires you to follow the instructions carefully. Accuracy may vary if the tests aren’t used correctly.
Accuracy may also vary brand-to-brand. Those that mention that they are traceable to a program of the CDC may be more accurate than those that do not mention this.
How to choose what test to use
Optum Perks does not rank products. You should opt for the type of at-home cholesterol test that suits your needs the best.
It is worth considering the following criteria when choosing a test:
- Budget: Consider how much you are willing to spend on an at-home test.
- Laboratory: Selecting tests that use CLIA-certified labs means that your results are likely to be more reliable and your sample will be safe. These labs follow strict federal regulations.
- Test result speed: Consider how long you are willing to wait for your results.
- Further support: Using companies that offer additional services to help you understand your results may be useful.
If you suspect you have cardiovascular issues, it may be a good idea to get a cholesterol test from a healthcare professional. These tests can provide you with a clearer picture of your cholesterol levels, and whether you need to take specific action.
While tests from a professional generally provide more insight, at-home tests can be helpful if you can’t access a healthcare professional for any reason.
For example, one 2021 report notes that in the New England region of the United States, people were less likely to see a healthcare professional for cholesterol testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, with a decline rate of 39%. At-home tests can be useful in situations like this.
When you should speak with a professional
The CDC recommends that you should regularly test cholesterol levels. They recommend that children and adolescents should be tested at least once between the ages of 9–11 and then again between 17–21, whereas most adults should test their cholesterol every 4–6 years.
People with a family history of high cholesterol or who are more at risk may need to check their levels more often.
If you take an at-home cholesterol test and receive results outside the typical levels, you may want to seek advice from a healthcare professional.
A healthcare professional can work with you to create an effective lifestyle plan to manage your cholesterol and get it back to healthy levels.
Home cholesterol tests make it easier for you to check your cholesterol in the comfort of your own home. Tests involve pricking a finger to obtain a small sample of blood.
At-home tests measure your total cholesterol levels. They can be as accurate as the ones healthcare professionals use, but you must follow the instructions carefully. Still, cholesterol tests that professionals perform measure all types of cholesterol, including HDL. This allows them to determine whether you are at risk of cardiovascular issues.
- About cholesterol. (2023). https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/about.htm
- Cholesterol. (2018). https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/home-use-tests/cholesterol
- Cholesterol testing at home: It may be faster, but is it better? (2017). https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/cholesterol-testing-at-home-it-may-be-faster-but-is-it-better
- Getting a cholesterol test. (2022). https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/cholesterol_screening.htm
- Gumuser ED, et al. (2021). Trends in cholesterol testing during the COVID-19 pandemic: COVID-19 and cholesterol testing. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666667721000076
- What is blood cholesterol? (2022). https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/blood-cholesterol
- Zhao Q, et al. (2017). Association of total cholesterol and HDL-C levels and outcome in coronary heart disease patients with heart failure. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5340437/