When to have a cholesterol test

Some doctors and health organizations recommend that everyone older than 20 be checked for high cholesterol. How often you should be checked depends on whether you have other health problems and your overall chance of heart disease.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has guidelines for lipid disorder screening for adults.

Most experts agree that the following people should have their cholesterol checked:

An adult who has coronary artery disease should have a cholesterol test at least once a year.

An adult who is being treated for high cholesterol may need more frequent tests, depending on his or her cholesterol level and the type of treatment being used.

Most adults who have diabetes should be tested at least once a year.1

For children, the USPSTF does not recommend for or against routine cholesterol screening, based on a review of the research.2 But the American Heart Association and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest that children and teens have their cholesterol levels tested if they have a family history of early coronary artery disease or have other risk factors.3, 4

The AAP suggests that a child's risk of high cholesterol, based on a physical exam and family history, be checked at ages 2, 4, 6, 8, and 10 years, and then every year through age 21. The AAP also suggests that a cholesterol screening test be done between the ages of 18 and 21.5

Public cholesterol testing can be convenient and helpful. But most doctors will want to verify public test results. Because the doctor can evaluate risk factors and provide counseling, having your cholesterol level checked during a doctor visit is the preferred method.

For more information, see the topic High Cholesterol.


  1. American Diabetes Association (2008). Standards of medical care in diabetes. Clinical Practice Recommendations 2008. Diabetes Care, 31(Suppl 1): S3–S110.
  2. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (2007). Screening for lipid disorders in children. Available online: http://www.ahrq.gov/clinic/uspstf/uspschlip.htm.
  3. Kavey RW, et al. (2003). American Heart Association guidelines for primary prevention of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease beginning in childhood. Circulation, 107(11): 1562–1566.
  4. Daniels SR, et al. (2008) Lipid screening and cardiovascular health in childhood. Pediatrics, 122(1): 198–208.
  5. American Academy of Pediatrics (2008). Recommendations for preventive pediatric health care. In Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed., p. 591. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics. Also available online: http://practice.aap.org/content.aspx?aid=1599&nodeID=4003.

Last Updated: August 28, 2009

Author: Debby Golonka, MPH

Medical Review: Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine

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