How Often Do You Really Need to Have Your Cholesterol Checked?

Chances are that you have paid money in the past to measure your cholesterol, and will continue to do so periodically in the future.  So, how often do you need to check it? 

“As often as my doctor recommends.”

Sure, that’s the easy answer, and the decision should indeed be made in consultation with your physician (or other care provider).  However, giving it a few moments’ thought might save you some money.

Keep in mind that your doctor monitors cholesterol levels for hundreds, if not thousands, of people.  It is highly unlikely that he or she has the time to tailor testing frequency to each and every patient’s situation. 

It is almost certain that there is a generic office protocol.  In fact, when you call for a renewal of medication refills it is most likely that your physician’s staff members make the decision when to drag you back into the office for lab work.

Your doctor’s protocol likely will not always match with times when you otherwise need to visit the office, creating inconvenience and lost time.  Whether you pay the full price, or only a co-pay, why have testing more often than needed?

Common scenarios when testing is performed more frequently than may be needed, unnecessarily increasing costs:

  • The individual with normal past cholesterol levels.  Really, what is the chance that a previously acceptable cholesterol will fall into ruin within the span of one year?  Absent major weight gain or a significant decline in lifestyle, many experts agree that waiting three to five years between testing can be perfectly appropriate.
  • The person who has been on a stable dose of medication for years without a problem.  After first prescribing or adjusting a cholesterol-lowering drug most physicians will appropriately watch for the possibility of liver irritation.  Testing every six months is a common recommendation.  However, even though adverse effects are most likely to crop up within the first year or so, many people continue the frequent testing indefinitely.  After adequate time to prove that a medication is well-tolerated, testing frequency might appropriately be relaxed.

The bottom line is that there is no absolute rule on cholesterol testing frequency.  Consider inquiring if your situation might merit variation from the generic office protocol.  After all, aren’t there other things that you would rather spend that money on?

Stephen Meyers, MD


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Filed under High Cholesterol

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