When to Suspect Your Cholesterol Test Is Wrong

vials of blood to be tested

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Accuracy is the primary goal of any cholesterol test. There are several potential causes of false high cholesterol tests, including simple human error.

A good place to start: Ask your doctor what kind of test will be used to measure your cholesterol. In recent years, newer testing methods have been developed that can be more accurate than past methods and are more convenient for both the patient and clinicians.

One newer development: Some patients no longer have to fast before a test and don't have to wonder what to eat the night before a cholesterol test (nor do they have to show up first thing in the morning for a blood draw). Research has shown that HDL/LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels aren't generally affected by food consumption the day before testing.

These nonfasting methods have been shown to be more accurate than the traditional method originally developed and used since the 1970s (known as the Friedewald Estimation), particularly when measuring LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Still, despite best intentions, inaccurate tests can happen and it is helpful to know when it might make sense to ask your doctor if you need a re-test.

Why Your Cholesterol Test May Be Inaccurate

The most common underlying reason for surprising cholesterol lab results is a temporary change in your body's chemistry. Here are some situations that could skew your cholesterol results:

  • A recent cardiac event, such as a heart attack or stroke, can temporarily lower lipid levels.
  • Surgeries and infections can also temporarily lower your cholesterol levels.
  • Certain medications, such as corticosteroids and beta-blockers, can raise your lipid levels. Consult your doctor and make sure you are clear about how long you need to be off of a given medication to ensure accurate results.
  • Pregnancy can increase cholesterol levels, so a cholesterol test should not be considered reliable until a woman is about four months postpartum.
  • Alcohol consumption can also affect your test results. Most experts agree you should avoid any alcoholic beverages for 24 hours prior to testing.
  • Human error is uncommon, but lab mistakes and reporting mistakes do happen.

Make sure that the person drawing your blood asks for your identification, and then labels the tubes with your information. There are other ways that laboratory errors happen, but misidentification is one you can help prevent.

What to Do

If you suspect your cholesterol results are inaccurate, don't hesitate to ask for a repeat test. Your cholesterol numbers are one key component, along with other factors like blood pressure and body weight, that doctors use to assess your overall risk of heart attack or stroke. Accurate results are crucial.

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