At-Home Cholesterol Testing
- Also Known As:
- At-Home Lipid Panel
- At-Home Lipid Testing
- At-Home Lipid Profile
- At-Home Total Cholesterol Test
Test Quick Guide
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is essential to normal functions of nearly all of the cells in the body. In the blood, though, the buildup of too much cholesterol can heighten the risk of cardiovascular problems like heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke.
At-home cholesterol testing is a method of checking your blood cholesterol levels, which can offer information about your cardiovascular health. At-home tests should not be used in lieu of having your cholesterol checked by a doctor.
There are different types of at-home cholesterol tests. Some require sending a sample to a laboratory, and others analyze your blood on-site to provide rapid results. At-home tests may measure only the total amount of cholesterol or may determine total cholesterol along with levels of different kinds of cholesterol.
About the Test
Purpose of the test
Cholesterol testing can be a component of assessing cardiovascular disease risk. It is frequently prescribed by doctors, but it’s role as an at-home test is not clearly defined.
The following sections describe the distinct purposes of at-home and physician-ordered cholesterol tests.
Purpose of at-home cholesterol tests
The main purpose of at-home cholesterol tests is to gather information about the levels of cholesterol in your blood. Evidence is limited about what role, if any, at-home cholesterol testing can play in your health care.
At-home tests may detect high cholesterol levels that can be discussed with your doctor. However, at-home tests should never be used instead of doctor-prescribed tests or instead of discussing symptoms or cardiovascular risk factors with a health professional.
Purpose of physician-ordered cholesterol tests
Most cholesterol testing is ordered by a doctor and performed in a medical office, hospital, or other medical setting. The purpose of cholesterol testing overseen by a health professional is better defined than at-home testing.
In many cases, a doctor recommends cholesterol testing for screening. This means that it is used to look for a health problem before any symptoms have occurred. Looking at cholesterol levels may provide an early warning sign of an increased risk of serious heart problems or cardiovascular disease.
Different medical organizations have distinct guidelines for using cholesterol testing for the early detection of cardiovascular risk. When to start screening and how often to repeat a cholesterol test typically depends on whether you have other risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, or a family history of heart disease.
People with one or more risk factors usually start screening at a younger age and may have more frequent follow-up testing. Even people without risk factors are still usually advised to have occasional cholesterol testing. Your doctor can recommend a tailored screening schedule for your specific situation.
A doctor may order cholesterol testing to monitor the cardiovascular health of people who have had heart problems or abnormal cholesterol levels in the past. Periodically checking cholesterol levels can be used to assess changes to cardiovascular risk or an individual’s response to treatments meant to lower that risk.
What does an at-home cholesterol test measure?
At-home cholesterol tests can measure the total amount of cholesterol in a blood sample and may also determine the levels of specific kinds of cholesterol.
Cholesterol and other fat-like substances are known as lipids. To travel through the blood, lipids must attach to particles called lipoproteins, which are made up of a mix of proteins and fat.
Cholesterol can attach to different kinds of lipoproteins, and this is a primary way of distinguishing between types of cholesterol. A lipid panel is a kind of cholesterol test that evaluates several types of lipids. The standard components of a lipid panel include:
- Total cholesterol: Total cholesterol is the sum of all types of cholesterol found in a blood sample.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol: Also known as “good cholesterol,” HDL cholesterol (HDL-C) contributes to cardiovascular health in several ways, including by reducing the unwanted buildup of cholesterol in arteries.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol: Commonly referred to as “bad cholesterol,” LDL cholesterol (LDL-C) is linked to cardiovascular problems like heart disease and stroke. In most cases, LDL-C is calculated using an equation based on the other measurements in a lipid panel.
- Triglycerides: Triglycerides are another type of fat that have been associated with cardiovascular problems.
An at-home cholesterol test may involve some or all of these components. It is important to look closely at any at-home test to know exactly which cholesterol levels will be included in the test report.
When should I get an at-home cholesterol test?
You can consider getting an at-home test if you are curious about your blood cholesterol. This can provide information about your current cholesterol levels and may help initiate a more in-depth conversation with your doctor about heart health and wellness.
At the same time, you should not have an at-home cholesterol test if you have concerns or symptoms related to your health. In that case, you should talk with your doctor for specific guidance. Your doctor can also review the pros and cons of at-home cholesterol testing in your situation.
Benefits and Downsides of At-Home Cholesterol Testing
It is important to consider the possible pros and cons of at-home cholesterol testing to determine if it is the right choice for you.
Some of the main benefits of at-home cholesterol tests include:
- Convenience: At-home cholesterol testing allows you to take the test according to your own schedule and without having to make an appointment or go to a medical office or laboratory.
- Fingerstick blood sample: The blood sample for at-home tests comes from pricking your fingertip with a tiny needle instead of a typical blood draw that takes a sample from a vein in your arm.
- Supplementing doctor-ordered testing: At-home testing may be useful for people who want to check their cholesterol in the time between tests ordered by their physician.
- Transparent pricing: For most at-home cholesterol tests, the total price is clearly displayed and prepaid at the outset.
- Several test options: Because multiple types of at-home tests are available, you can choose the one that best suits your preferences and budget.
Some of the potential drawbacks of at-home cholesterol testing include:
- Limited medical review: At-home tests often provide results without direct consultation with a doctor who knows your situation. This can be a drawback because cholesterol tests should be interpreted in the context of your cardiovascular risk factors, past test results, and overall health.
- Out-of-pocket payment: You will normally have to pay for at-home cholesterol tests in full and out of pocket because at-home tests are not typically covered by insurance.
- Potential test error: When taking the test yourself, results can be inaccurate or invalid if the test kit is not prepared correctly. It is essential to follow all provided instructions and to take precautions to avoid contaminating the test sample.
Types of At-Home Cholesterol Tests
There are several different kinds of at-home cholesterol tests. All of the test options require a blood sample that is taken by pricking your finger with a very small needle. However, tests vary based on how and where that blood sample is analyzed.
In a self-test, analysis of the blood sample happens at home, typically providing results within minutes. Most cholesterol self-tests use a specialized test strip and a small device that can measure cholesterol levels. Some self-tests don’t use a device and instead use a test strip that changes color based on the amount of cholesterol in the blood.
In a self-collection test, your blood sample must be mailed to a laboratory where it can be analyzed. Results are usually available within a few business days through a smartphone app or secure website.
Tests can also vary based on their specific components. A test may measure only total cholesterol or may include other levels like HDL-C, LDL-C, and/or triglycerides.
The following sections introduce our top picks for the best at-home cholesterol tests, including options for both self-tests and self-collection tests.
LetsGetChecked – Cholesterol Test
Sample: Blood (fingerstick)
Tests for: Total cholesterol, HDL-C, LDL-C, Triglycerides
Results timeline: Within 2 to 5 days
The LetsGetChecked Cholesterol Test is our pick for the best overall at-home test to check your lipid levels. This test combines all the main elements of a lipid panel with a quick turnaround time and an affordable price. The LetsGetChecked product is a self-collection test, which means you obtain a blood sample at home and send it to a lab for analysis.
Taking your blood sample is easy with the company’s kit. It includes a small needle called a lancet, which you use to prick your finger to collect several drops of blood in a provided test tube. Then seal the tube in a biohazard bag and send it to the company’s laboratory in prepaid packaging.
The laboratory analyzes your blood and provides results that include your total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol (HDL-C), LDL cholesterol (LDL-C), and triglycerides. The test report also includes a calculation of the percent of total cholesterol that is made up of good HDL cholesterol.
Results are provided online through a secure site and are usually available 2 to 5 days after the sample is received. While the LetsGetChecked site and smartphone app clearly display your levels, you can also consult with the company’s nursing support team if you have questions.
All testing is conducted in CLIA-certified laboratories that adhere to quality control standards. Shipping costs are included in the price, and FSA and HSA cards are accepted. Customers who want to frequently take a cholesterol test can sign up for LetsGetChecked’s cost-saving subscription service.
myLAB Box – At Home Cholesterol and Lipids Test
Sample: Blood (fingerstick)
Tests for: Total cholesterol, HDL-C, LDL-C, Triglycerides
Results timeline: Within 2 to 5 days
An at-home kit with one of the fastest turnaround times for receiving results is the Cholesterol and Lipids Test from myLAB Box. The company includes free two-day shipping of your test kit, prepaid rapid return shipping, and a results time frame of 2 to 5 days once your sample reaches the lab.
The test kit from myLAB Box contains detailed instructions and all the materials you need to properly prepare your blood sample for analysis at a CLIA-certified laboratory. All of the core components of a standard lipid panel—including total cholesterol, HDL-C, LDL-C, and triglycerides—are part of the final test report, which also includes the lab’s normal reference ranges.
Test results are accessible online. You also have the opportunity to consult with a physician if you have any outstanding questions about the results of your test.
Customers who want to save on repeat testing can sign up for the company’s subscription option, which streamlines the ordering process while offering a lower price for each individual test.
Everlywell – Cholesterol and Lipids Test
Sample: Blood (fingerstick)
Tests for: Total cholesterol, HDL-C, LDL-C, Triglycerides
Results timeline: Typically within 5 business days
Our pick for the most affordable cholesterol test is the Cholesterol and Lipids Test from Everlywell. It includes the standard cholesterol measurements of a lipid panel at an approachable price-point that includes free shipping both ways.
Everlywell’s test uses a dried blood sample that you obtain by pricking your finger with a tiny needle and placing drops of blood on a specially designed test paper. All the materials and instructions for this self-collection process are included in the test kit.
Your blood sample is analyzed within a few days after it arrives at a CLIA-certified lab. Results include total cholesterol, HDL-C, LDL-C, and triglycerides.
The user interface of Everlywell’s online platform clearly displays your results alongside reference ranges. Consultations are available with health professionals if you have questions about your results.
People who want to test regularly can sign up for an Everlywell membership and receive lower per-test pricing.
Price: See best price on Amazon
Sample: Blood (fingerstick)
Tests for: Total cholesterol, HDL-C, Triglycerides
Results timeline: Within minutes
The CardioChek Analyzer is a self-test that allows you to get results at home without having to mail your sample to a laboratory.
The test uses a handheld device to analyze a drop of blood placed on a special test strip. The company offers a variety of test strips that allow you to measure total cholesterol, HDL-C, and triglycerides. With these readings, you can use a straightforward equation to calculate your LDL-C level.
To obtain a blood sample, use a lancet to prick your finger and apply a small drop of blood to the test strip. Then place that part of the strip in the device, which analyzes your blood and shows the results on its display.
A major benefit of the CardioChek Analyzer is that it provides rapid results. You can get a measurement of your cholesterol levels within minutes, and some test strips are analyzed in as few as 45 seconds. In addition, you can purchase sets of multiple test strips for frequent repeat testing without the inconvenience of shipping samples to a lab.
Interpreting At-Home Cholesterol Test Results
Results from at-home self-tests are usually immediate, and self-collection tests generally have results available within a few days. Cholesterol levels are reported in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL).
The exact results shown on your test will depend on which cholesterol levels were included in the test. Common target levels for different types of cholesterol include:
- Total cholesterol: Under 200 mg/dL
- HDL (good) cholesterol: Above 60 mg/dL
- LDL (bad) cholesterol: Below 100 mg/dL
- Triglycerides: Below 150 mg/dL
These numbers provide a general reference for target cholesterol levels, but targets for any individual can depend on their specific circumstances.
Total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and/or triglycerides that are abnormally high are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Low levels of HDL-C have also been tied to heart disease and other problems.
Cholesterol tests should always be interpreted with your overall health in mind. This means considering your age, sex, risk factors for cardiovascular problems, and health history. For this reason, it is best to discuss any cholesterol test results with a doctor who can best explain its significance in your case.
It is also important to remember that at-home testing may not use the same methods for measuring cholesterol that are used in tests ordered by your doctor. As a result, you should talk to your doctor before comparing the results of an at-home test with results from prior cholesterol tests.
Are test results accurate?
Cholesterol testing is common and generally dependable as part of cardiovascular risk assessment. Like any medical testing, though, cholesterol tests are not perfect.
When properly performed, at-home cholesterol self-tests can be about as accurate as laboratory lab tests conducted with a blood draw. However, products that are poorly manufactured or that provide inadequate instructions may suffer from reductions in accuracy.
For both in-lab and at-home cholesterol measurement, certain issues can influence the accuracy of the test:
- Individual factors: Small fluctuations in cholesterol levels can be related to stress or your physical posture during the test.
- Active illness: Inflammation related to various types of illness can change cholesterol levels, affecting the short-term reliability of cholesterol measurements.
- LDL-C calculations: Standard cholesterol testing usually calculates LDL-C levels based on the other measurements. The formulas for these calculations can lead to inaccurate results in people who have very high triglyceride levels.
For any questions about the accuracy of specific at-home tests, you can ask the test provider for available documentation related to the testing method and results accuracy. Your doctor can also discuss any factors in your case that could affect cholesterol test results.
Do I need follow-up tests?
Depending on your at-home cholesterol test results, you may need follow-up tests. If your at-home test shows abnormal cholesterol levels, your doctor may want to perform a laboratory assessment of your cholesterol levels using a sample taken during a blood draw.
In addition to repeat testing of your cholesterol levels, other tests may be considered based on your specific situation. These could include more detailed cholesterol tests like a direct LDL-C test or other types of expanded lipid analysis. In some cases, a cardiac stress test or other kinds of imaging tests may be used to assess heart health.
Questions for your doctor after at-home testing
After you have taken an at-home cholesterol test, you can review your results with your doctor and raise some of the following questions:
- What are my target levels for different kinds of cholesterol?
- Were any of my cholesterol levels abnormal?
- How do the levels on my at-home test compare to any prior cholesterol tests in my health record?
- Do you recommend any further cholesterol testing? If so, what tests should I take and how often should I take them?
- Should I consider any treatments or lifestyle changes related to my cardiovascular health?
There are numerous types of cholesterol testing, and this can create confusion for people trying to understand what makes each test distinct. The following sections compare at-home and in-lab cholesterol tests and provide links to learn more about other related cholesterol tests.
Comparing and contrasting laboratory and at-home cholesterol testing
Whether conducted in a laboratory or at home, cholesterol tests rely on a blood sample. Virtually all tests measure total cholesterol, but the other components can vary depending on the specific test that is being taken. In addition, fasting may be required in some cases for both kinds of tests. In most cases, accuracy of at-home and in-lab tests is comparable.
A principal difference between these tests is how the blood sample is obtained. Blood drawn from a vein is usually analyzed in tests that are conducted at a doctor’s office, lab, or hospital. At-home self-tests and self-collection tests rely on a smaller amount of blood obtained with a fingerstick.
Another difference is insurance coverage. When a standard blood draw and cholesterol test is ordered by a doctor, some or all of the charges are often covered by insurance. In contrast, most at-home cholesterol tests are not covered, requiring you to pay the full cost out-of-pocket.
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