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Cholesterol and lipid tests

3-minute read

A cholesterol (or lipid profile) test looks at the various levels of cholesterol and other fats in the blood.

Lipids and cholesterol are fat-like substances in the body. If you have high levels of these fats, you are more at risk of a heart attack or stroke.

The test is one way of seeing if you are at risk and how you should be treated.

What is being tested?

The test measures different things:

  • The total amount of cholesterol in the blood
  • The level of HDL-cholesterol (often called good cholesterol)
  • The level of LDL-cholesterol (often called bad cholesterol)
  • Triglycerides (another type of fat in the body)

If you have a high level of LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides, then you have an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

If your levels of cholesterol and lipids go down, then your risk goes down too.

Why would I need this test?

You might need this test if your doctor wants to assess your risk of developing heart disease. It is usually recommended every 5 years for people who are over 45 (or 35 if you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander). If you have other risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure or diabetes, you will need the lipid test more regularly.

ARE YOU AT RISK? — Are you at risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease or kidney disease? Use the Risk Checker to find out.

How to prepare for this test

You will usually need to fast (not have any food and only drink water) for between 8 and 12 hours before having this test. Most people have the test in the morning so it doesn't interfere with their day and their meals. Talk to your doctor about any medications you take.

Understanding your results

Cholesterol and lipid levels are just one thing that’s taken into account when working out your risk of heart disease and stroke. Your doctor will also look at other things such as your age or blood pressure to calculate your risk.

There are specific guidelines for target cholesterol levels in different people — talk to your doctor about this.

If your HDL levels are low and your LDL levels are high, or your total cholesterol level is high, your doctor will likely talk with you about how to to lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. These might include:

Your doctor might suggest medication to help keep your cholesterol in the healthy range. If you are on such medication, you might need regular cholesterol tests to check that they are working well and that you are taking the right dose.

More information

See Pathology Tests Explained for more information about testing cholesterol and lipids.

About blood testing

Visit our ‘Guide to blood testing’ to learn more about blood tests in general with information such as:

  • what to consider before having the test
  • what happens during a blood test
  • results accuracy
  • blood tests cost

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2020


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