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Exams and Tests

It's important to track your cholesterol and risk for related heart disease, heart attack or stroke. A simple blood test – called a lipid panel – is used to check the amount of cholesterol in your blood.

Cholesterol is measured in milligrams (mg) per deciliter (dL) of blood – mg/dL in the United States. The test provides four measures: 

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL cholesterol, often called the “bad” cholesterol
  • HDL cholesterol
  • Triglycerides

Lipoprotein (a), pronounced "L-P little A," is like LDL cholesterol, but stickier. It can speed up narrowing of your arteries. Your care team may check your Lp(a) level to better understand your risk for stroke, heart attack or other diseases – especially if you have a strong family history of early heart disease. For example, if you have a parent, brother or sister who had a heart attack or stroke at an early age (before age 55 for males and 65 for females). Lp(a) is often passed down in families.  

Other measures your care team might look at are levels of Apolipoprotein B (Apo-B), which helps make plaque that can clog arteries, as well as other non-HDL cholesterol.

Tracking cholesterol over time

It’s important to track your cholesterol over time, especially because there are often no signs and symptoms of early buildup of fatty substances and cholesterol in the artery walls.

Talk with your health care team about how often your cholesterol should be checked and what numbers would be ideal for you.

When High LDL Cholesterol Runs in Families
If you have high LDL cholesterol that doesn’t seem to respond to lifestyle changes or medications, ask about familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). Learn more at CardioSmart.org/FH.
  • Last Edited 08/25/2023