Harvard Heart Letter

The latest on cholesterol testing

Adults should have a blood lipid panel done at least every five years.

Experts still advise getting regular blood lipid tests.

In late 2013, when the new national guidelines on managing cholesterol were released, many people wondered how the change would affect blood cholesterol testing. Also known as a lipid profile or lipid panel, the cholesterol test measures several different types of fats (lipids) in your bloodstream.

Primary care doctors have long ordered cholesterol tests during routine physical exams. The results help predict your risk of heart disease and possible need for cholesterol-lowering statins. While the old guidelines focused solely on your cholesterol value, the new ones recognize that the number is just one part of the picture, along with other factors including your age, family history, and other health problems. In fact, some people with "normal" cholesterol levels at high risk for heart disease are advised to take statins.

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