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Do-it-yourself Cholesterol Testing

Home test kits provide results but following the directions is essential

Home test kits for diabetes, pregnancy, and ovulation have been joined on the market by do-it-yourself kits for testing blood cholesterol levels. The first cholesterol self-test kit was introduced by Johnson & Johnson under the trade name Advanced Care Cholesterol Test and is available off-the-shelf in most pharmacies at a suggested retail price of $15 to $20.

About one-fifth of all adult Americans have cholesterol levels that are considered medically worrisome, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Yet only one-third know what their cholesterol count actually is. The new home test provides a relatively convenient way to determine when a person's cholesterol level is elevated enough to warrant consulting a physician.

The test, which uses a simple push-button device to prick the finger and draw a drop or two of blood, takes 12 to 15 minutes to complete. When the directions are followed, the manufacturer says, it is 97 percent accurate, which is comparable in accuracy to the readings of total cholesterol made by doctors and laboratories.

The Johnson & Johnson self-test has one major drawback, however. Although it provides a quick overall cholesterol count, it lacks the sophistication to break down a person's cholesterol composition into "good" and "bad" cholesterol.

High-density lipoproteins (HDL) are known as "good" cholesterol because they draw fatty deposits away from the arteries, while low-density lipoproteins (LDL) contribute to the development of plaque along artery walls. A total cholesterol reading of 200 mg/dl is high enough to warrant a follow-up consultation with a doctor, but until a doctor has established what your HDL and LDL levels are, it is difficult to determine your true cardiovascular health.

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Updated on April 8, 1996