HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) Cholesterol Test

Written by Brian Krans | Published on June 26, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

HDL Test Overview

An HDL test measures the level of “good” cholesterol in your blood.

HDL is high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Lipoproteins are composed of protein and fat. HDL is known as the good cholesterol because it carries the “bad” cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), triglycerides, and harmful fats and returning them to your liver for processing. When HDL reaches your liver, the liver breaks down the LDL, turns it into bile, and removes it from your body.

Research has shown people with healthy HDL cholesterol levels are at a low risk for coronary artery disease.

Why an HDL Test Is Done

An HDL test is also known as an HDL-C test.

Your doctor may order an HDL test as part of a regular checkup if you are 50 years of age or older. This is because symptoms of heart problems begin to show when you reach this age.

The test may also be done regularly for people who are at risk for heart disease, including those who:

  • have diabetes
  • have a family history of heart disease
  • have high blood pressure
  • are over the age of 45 (men)
  • are over the age of 55 (women)
  • smoke and/or use tobacco

Your doctor may also order the test to monitor the effectiveness of treatments or your lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise.

Home tests to check cholesterol are available, including HDL-specific tests. (FDA)

The Risks of an HDL Test

An HDL test requires a simple, routine blood draw, and this rarely causes any serious side effects.

Risks of giving a blood sample include:

  • bleeding under the skin (hematoma)
  • excessive bleeding
  • fainting
  • infection

How to Prepare for an HDL Test

Your doctor will give you complete instructions on how to prepare for the test. These may include not taking certain medications for a short period or fasting for up to 12 hours before the test.

How an HDL Test Is Performed

The HDL test is quick and relatively painless. It requires drawing a blood sample using a needle. You will feel the sting of the needle where the blood sample is taken. Some tests, such as home tests, only need a drop of blood, taken using a small needle called a lancet.

When an adequate amount of blood is drawn into the airtight bottle attached to the needle, the sample is packaged and sent to a laboratory for testing. .

If you feel woozy or light-headed after the blood draw, you may rest and possibly have a snack or a sugary drink to help you feel better.

After an HDL Test

Cholesterol levels are measured by the amount of milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL.

Optimal levels for HDL cholesterol are over 40 mg/dL for men and over 50 mg/dL for women.

Typical levels for women (50 to 59 mg/dL) and men (40 to 50 mg/dL) put them at average risk for heart disease. Lower numbers mean there is an even greater risk of the disease.

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