Can I test cholesterol levels at home?

Answered by Shivam Patel, PharmD, BSPS, RPh | Posted January 08, 2020

Hearing the word cholesterol, many of us feel frightened as if it is something we should completely avoid. Well, that would be a mistake – if not impossible! Cholesterol is nothing to be afraid of and something we actually need. It’s a waxy substance that is in your blood and each cell of your body that allows your organs and cells to function properly. Your liver produces all the cholesterol your body needs. Eating foods—usually those high in protein and fat, like meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy—adds unnecessary cholesterol to your body.

There are two types of cholesterol:

    1)    Low-density lipoprotein (LDL), aka bad cholesterol
    2)    High-density lipoprotein (HDL), aka good cholesterol

Just remember: The word happy begins with the letter h, which is exactly what your clinician will be when your HDL levels are high!

Triglycerides, a type of fat that is found in your blood, come into the picture as well – and here’s where fear is perhaps warranted. Both high LDL and triglyceride levels in your blood put you at risk for heart disease, which is the number one cause of death in the United States. When LDL levels are high, they cause the body to build up plaque in arteries which disrupts blood from flowing properly. When blood does not flow like it should, your heart may not receive enough blood, and this could result in a heart attack. Also, when blood flow is disrupted to the brain, it can result in peripheral artery disease or a stroke.

Monitoring LDL cholesterol levels has been an important indicator for cardiovascular disease risk and the target for treatment. However, new research now recommends that total/HDL cholesterol and LDL/HDL cholesterol ratios are better predictors of cardiovascular risk than monitoring LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol individually.

While traditionally people usually go to their health care providers to test their cholesterol levels, there are affordable ways to test cholesterol levels at home. Equally as important, there are effective medications, like Lipitor (atorvastatin) and Crestor (rosuvastatin), to help you lower LDL levels when diet and exercise are not enough.

What are the recommended cholesterol levels?

According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, cholesterol level recommendations are as follows:

Recommended Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol Type Recommended Level
Total cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL
LDL Less than 100 mg/dL
HDL 60 mg/dL or higher
Triglycerides Less than 150 mg/dL

How can I test my cholesterol at home?

Cholesterol home test kits are a good way to check your cholesterol levels in between clinician visits. You are able to get your results within minutes rather than days or weeks for traditional results. It is also important to monitor levels as high cholesterol has no symptoms. The only way to detect it is if you take a blood test.

Your local pharmacy will sell cholesterol home test kits for around $20. It will usually contain a lancet that you can use to draw blood and test strips. These are basic strip tests. If you would like a test with a device, it may cost between $100 to $200. There are also mail in kits, which you can use to take a blood sample at home and send to a lab in a prepaid mailer with your results delivered via phone or online in around three days. These mail in kits cost around $40.

When you are ready to test your cholesterol with the kit, you will start by pricking your finger with the lancet. Then you will place a drop of blood on the test strip provided. The test strip already contains certain chemicals that will change color usually within 10 minutes of testing. You will then have to match the final color of the test strip to the color diagram that is included in the kit. Once you match the color, you will know an estimate of how much total cholesterol was in your blood drop.

The cheapest cholesterol test kits only measure total cholesterol, which is often inadequate to assess whether cholesterol is a problem for you. The better ones will measure HDL levels and triglycerides. For a full assessment of your health, choose a kit that can test LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels. This may be a more expensive kit but necessary for those who need consistent monitoring.  

It is important to know that home test results are only an estimate of your cholesterol level. Even though the home test is often as accurate as your clinician’s test, the home test is not a substitute for your clinician’s overall assessment.

What are the best cholesterol home test kits?

There are a lot of cholesterol test kits to choose from when searching online. One recommendation I would make is the CardioChek starter kit that comes with an electronic analyzer and three total cholesterol test strips, three HDL test strips, three triglyceride test strips, nine lancets, and nine capillaries. It is available for around $145 on Amazon.

If you are looking for a more simple budget option, I would recommend the First Check Cholesterol Home Test 3 in 1 Kit. For around $20 you can test approximate HDL and total cholesterol levels. For approximate LDL levels you can subtract HDL levels from your total cholesterol levels. The test and results can all be completed within 10 minutes and you don’t have to fast beforehand. It includes two lancets, two droppers, gauze and bandages. It is a single use kit and a quick option if you need a cholesterol level estimate today.  

How much do cholesterol medications cost?

Four of the most common brand-name medications used to help control high LDL levels and triglycerides are: Lipitor (atorvastatin), Zocor (simvastatin) Crestor (rosuvastatin), and Pravachol. They are all off patent and their generic options are very affordable, domestically in the U.S. and internationally as well.

Generic Cholesterol Medication Cost for 90 tablets
Generic Name Brand Name Average retail price U.S. Pharmacies PC Discount Card Price Lowest Accredited International Pharmacy Price Potential Savings Ave. Retail Price vs. Lowest Price found on PharmacyChecker
Atorvastatin 40mg Lipitor $220.89 $23.17 $17.99 92%
Simvastatin 20mg Zocor $65.51 $12.25 $17.99 73%
Rosuvastatin 20mg Crestor $428.13 $26.28 $23.99 94%
Pravastatin 40mg Pravachol $101.24 $51.96 $20.80 79%

Prices collected December 2019

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Updated September 09, 2020

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