Cholesterol is a wax-like substance in your blood that your body needs to build healthy cells, but it only needs so much. If you have more than you need, whether that's from a genetic predisposition or lifestyle choices, it can build up in your blood vessels.
That build-up cholesterol looks like fatty deposits in your blood vessels, which restricts blood flow through them.
You can think of healthy blood vessels like a hose or a straw. Liquid (blood) flows smoothly through it to the final destination. But when fatty deposits build upon the sides of the vessels, it's like you're pinching part of the hose.
That, in turn, raises blood pressure since the body has to work harder to get your blood from here to there, and a diagnosis of high blood pressure may lead to your doctor suggesting you get cholesterol testing.
High Cholesterol: The Silent Killer
Sometimes you'll hear cholesterol called a "silent killer" because there's no way to detect it other than through blood tests. Your doctor may inform you that you're at risk of high cholesterol or order tests based on other factors, like your blood pressure or family history, but they can't be sure until they take a blood sample.
As busy adults trying to work and raise a family, it's easy to put off going to the doctor as often as we should, which gives high cholesterol a chance to build unnoticed.
Risk Factors for High Cholesterol
Don't know whether you should be worried about your cholesterol levels or not? Look at the risk factors below, self-evaluate your risk, and then communicate any concerns to your doctor.
The average American diet is high in cholesterol. If your diet is high in processed foods, animal products, and fats, you're at a greater risk of developing high cholesterol.
There are no foods that "reduce" cholesterol immediately, but eating a diet heavy in green vegetables and plant-based foods is a protective factor.
Like the cereal Cheerios, some whole grains help lower your cholesterol, too, as they're a long-acting and plant-based source of energy.
If your blood tests come back with high or borderline-high cholesterol levels, expect your doctor to suggest changes to your diet.
While the BMI is not the most comprehensive medical assessment, a high BMI still puts you at risk for health complications. You can calculate your BMI using calculators online. If your number comes back at 30 or above, you have a higher risk of high cholesterol.
Smokers are at risk of developing high cholesterol, as the toxins in cigarettes and e-cigarettes are harmful to the heart.
You can't always control your high cholesterol risk. You can reduce it by following healthy lifestyle practices (avoiding the risk factors above), but some people have a higher risk due to genetic factors.
If you're born with or develop diabetes, your doctor will monitor your cholesterol levels. Due to the complexities of having diabetes (and the testing involved), it's rare to see people with diabetes with high cholesterol undiagnosed.
This genetic predisposition is sneakier than cholesterol's link to diabetes. You could be born with a liver that produces too much natural cholesterol, or your genetic makeup may prevent cells from removing it from your blood in the way they're meant to.
There's no way to detect this other than blood tests, though your doctor may have told you you're at risk due to family history.
The Symptoms of High Cholesterol
There are no direct symptoms of high cholesterol. That's why getting a blood test is so important if you or your doctor are concerned.
Testing is quick and covered by most insurance plans - there's no reason not to know!
I'm Concerned About My Risk: What Should I Do?
If you're worried or you want to be safe, they should have no qualms ordering these tests for you. There are no side effects to getting these tests done, apart from the mild discomfort of a blood draw.
No matter what the results are, it's better to know.
If you're worried about your cholesterol or your doctor just ordered tests, and you want to know what that means, we're covering the top ten blood tests for cholesterol below.
Standard Cholesterol Testing Lab Tests
Your doctor may order one or multiple tests to detect your cholesterol levels, or you can even order them yourself.
Ordering them yourself through this link is convenient and easy. It's an excellent choice for busy, health-conscious individuals.
Either way, you can detect cholesterol through:
1. A Lipid Panel With Ratios
Lipids are an organic compound found in your blood that acts as one of the building blocks for healthy cells. They're also in charge of delivering cholesterol (both good and bad) around the body, which is why doing a lipid profile to test for cholesterol is a good choice.
By taking a small vial of blood (usually less than 10 ml), the lab can test:
- Total Cholesterol
- HDL (good cholesterol)
- LDL (bad cholesterol)
- Triglycerides (VLDL)
Your doctor or the lab should call or update your health profile with the results, with both the number/percentages and a worded interpretation that you can easily understand.
The same is true when you order a lipid panel off our website. Our turnaround is sometimes even quicker than a doctor's office, as we have fewer hoops to jump through.
Your test will come with detailed instructions and information on obtaining your results.
Reading Your Results
As you may have noticed by reading the descriptions of the tests above, there are two types of cholesterol. There's HDL, which is considered "good" or "protective" cholesterol, and LDL, which is "harmful" or "bad."
The difference is simple. HDL transports excess cholesterol to your liver so that it can be processed and expelled from your body. The higher your HDL levels are (within the healthy range), the better your body keeps your vessels healthy.
On the other hand, LDL is excess cholesterol that can lead to plaque or fatty build-ups in your arteries and put you at a higher risk of the issues we mentioned above.
Raising your HDL levels won't "cure" high cholesterol, but it will help your body process some of your excesses more efficiently, lowering your LDL levels.
Raising your HDL levels and lowering your LDL's go hand in hand.
2. Apolipoprotein B
Another option is to run an Apolipoprotein B test, which takes the same kind of sample (and can be ordered simultaneously as any other test).
This protein, usually shortened to apo B, is a protein that helps metabolize (break down) lipids and is a central component of LDL or bad cholesterol.
A high apo B test result is indicative of elevated LDL. It's better to know - order an Apolipoprotein B test here.
3. High Sensitivity C-reactive Protein (hs-CRP)
This is another test that will detect cholesterol levels but also assess your risk of developing heart disease.
This particular test is drawn the same way as the tests before and is usually done in conjunction with a lipids panel (which may need to be done fasted).
The hs-CRP test doesn't directly test your cholesterol. Instead, it looks at the level of inflammation in your blood, which is related to atherosclerosis (the narrowing of blood vessels due to LDL build-up).
Testing your hs-CRP levels is a good test to do, along with a lipids panel to not only check what your cholesterol levels are but how much of a toll they're taking on the body.
If you don't have time to go to a physician, this test will give you a more in-depth understanding of your cholesterol health risks in combination with your lipid panels. Order it now.
4. Lipoprotein Fractionation
Lipids are involved in more organic processes than just moving cholesterol around the body. They carry other amino acids, proteins, and organic material.
This test looks at the makeup of the lipids available in your blood and determines the size of each molecule within the lipid.
It also goes hand in hand with a lipid profile and helps identify risk factors, including (but not limited to) high cholesterol.
Order this test here.
5. Lipoprotein A
If you know you have a family history of heart disease or high cholesterol, then that's a good time to run a Lipoprotein (a) test.
This blood test identifies apolipoprotein in the blood, a particle found in LDL molecules.
You may also want to order this test if your test shows moderate or risk-level but not high cholesterol. Why? This is one of the tests that can determine if you have a genetic predisposition to more elevated cholesterol. The higher your Lp(a) levels, the less likely your LDL will respond to typical risk-reduction strategies.
Don't worry, that doesn't mean you don't have treatment options - it's more likely you'll be looking at medication than lifestyle change factors. It's better to know - order now.
6. Apolipoprotein A1
Another test that looks at your apolipoprotein levels is often done to see how high cholesterol reduction campaigns are working. If you've been trying to get your cholesterol down but don't have time to do a full (fasted) lipid panel, this is a good choice.
Your doctor may also order this (or direct you to order it on our site) to assess your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in response to your family history.
If you're a parent and you know you have a history of CVD, talk to your pediatrician about the relevance of this test for your child, then order it online.
Like the hs-CRP test, this lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A² looks at inflammation levels in your blood vessels.
A high level of Lp-PLA² in your blood suggests a higher risk for CVD and certain types of strokes. Please don't risk it; order your test here.
8. VLDL Cholesterol Test
There are technically two types of "bad" cholesterol. LDL and VLDL - and no, the V does not stand for "very" or anything that denotes quantification or intensity.
VLDL is simply a sub-type of LDL with more triglycerides than LDL molecules. When you have high LDL levels, both types are present.
This test should come as a part of your lipids panel, though, as you can see, it's available separately as well.
9. Direct LDL
By this time, you know what LDL is, and you know that it's preferable to have lower levels if you're only interested in seeing your LDL levels and not your VLDL or HDL, order this test.
Order this test here.
10. APOE Genotyping
Finally, you may order an APOE genotyping test, though it's less common than the options listed above. The apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotype is a genetic risk factor for dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and cardiovascular disease (CVD). It includes three alleles (e2, e3, e4) located on chromosome 19q3.2. Those with at least one e4 allele are at increased risk for CVD outcomes.
- Homozygous 3 - Normal lipid metabolism and normal risk for CHD
- Heterozygous or homozygous for isoform: 2 - Increased risk for high levels of plasma triglyceride and CHD
- Heterozygous or homozygous for isoform: 4 - Increased risk for high levels of total cholesterol and CHD
Order this test to determine if you possess a higher risk of developing CVD.
Why Order Tests Online?
Depending on your insurance, provider, and location, it may make more sense for you to order tests online. If you have an HSA plan, our tests likely qualify for your HSA.
When you order from us, you will get a notification that your cholesterol testing results are ready, which will direct you to a secure patient portal.
You can then share these results with your physician or use them for your peace of mind.
Before you order, be sure to check out the homepage for any specials we're running, as it's our goal to provide you with as many options as possible at the lowest price without sacrificing quality.