How to check cholesterol at home: Is self-test reliable?

Check cholesterol at home to know if it is high

High cholesterol is a major concern, as too much of it can put you at risk for stroke and heart disease. There are usually no symptoms, and can happen without us knowing until it is too late. This is the reason why you and your family should go for a cholesterol test at regular intervals. Getting your blood drawn at a hospital or clinic is one way to know whether you have high cholesterol or not. You can also check cholesterol at home, as there are test kits available. Read on to know how to check cholesterol at home, and if it is better than going to a lab.

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat-like waxy substance found in our blood. Your body needs cholesterol to build healthy cells and make hormones, vitamin D, and substances that help you digest foods, explains cardiologist Dr Brajesh Kunwar. Your body makes cholesterol in the liver and most cells. It is then transported around the body by lipoproteins.

High cholesterol can lead to heart disease. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Cholesterol is also found in foods from animal sources, such as egg yolks, meat, and cheese. Too much cholesterol in your blood can lead to formation of plaque on the walls of your arteries. This build-up of plaque is known as atherosclerosis, which can lead to coronary artery disease and increase risk of stroke.

Why is it important to measure cholesterol?

High cholesterol often gives rise to no symptoms, so testing is crucial for early detection and prevention. Having high levels of cholesterol, particularly Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) “bad” cholesterol (LDL), can increase your risk of heart disease and strokes, says Dr Kunwar. Measuring cholesterol helps to understand your risk of developing heart disease and gives your doctor the information required for them to make decisions about your diet and lifestyle, and when to prescribe medicines.

Who should get cholesterol checked?

The following people should get their cholesterol checked, according to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Healthy adults should get tested every four to six years.
  • People with diabetes, heart disease or have a family history of high cholesterol need to get cholesterol checked more often than that.
  • Children should have get it checked at least once between ages nine and 11. Then again after they turn 17.
  • Children with diabetes or obesity may need to get tested more often.

Ways to check cholesterol levels

Traditionally, cholesterol levels are checked through blood tests at medical facilities. These tests include a lipid panel, which provides information about total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides, says endocrinologist Dr Praveen Ramachandra. There are also home cholesterol testing kits.

How to check cholesterol at home?

Home cholesterol testing kits typically involve the following steps:

  • Purchase a Food and Drug Administration-approved home cholesterol test kit.
  • Ensure you follow any pre-test instructions, which may include fasting for 8 to 12 hours before the cholesterol test.
  • Use the lancet included in the kit to prick your finger and collect a small blood sample on the provided strip.
  • Place the strip into the meter (if provided) or follow the kit instructions to interpret the colour change on the strip.
  • Record your results as instructed.

The results from home cholesterol tests are typically available within minutes, says Dr Ramachandra. The kit should provide information on what the numbers mean, usually detailing total cholesterol and sometimes a breakdown of HDL and LDL levels. The total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL, as per the CDC.
As for LDL cholesterol, it should be less than 100 mg/dL, and HDL cholesterol needs to be greater or equal to 60 mg/dL. If the numbers are not withing these ranges, manage your cholesterol level.

Check cholesterol at home
There are pros and cons of checking cholesterol at home. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What are the pros and cons checking cholesterol at home?

Pros of checking cholesterol at home:

  • Can be done at home without visiting a healthcare facility.
  • Quick results
  • Useful for ongoing monitoring of cholesterol between doctor visits.

Cons of checking cholesterol at home

  • May be less accurate compared to tests conducted in medical
    laboratories.
  • Often they do not provide a complete lipid profile. For example, it may not measure LDL directly.
  • Over time, the cost of repeated tests can add up.
  • Risk of neglecting professional medical advice based on
    home test results.
  • The results may be misinterpreted by a layperson without professional guidance.

With home collection of blood samples today by many labs, it may be more convenient to get the lipid profile done in a lab. While home tests can be a good tool for regular monitoring, they cannot replace professional testing and consultation.

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