You could have high cholesterol and not know it. That’s because high cholesterol doesn’t have signs or symptoms until it’s too late and you experience a stroke or heart attack.

But many Americans won’t go to their healthcare provider to get tested. In fact, 40% of Americans don’t go to the doctor for medical tests because of costs, according to a recent survey.

Home-based medical tests may provide a cheap and easy way for you to test your cholesterol at home. Here’s what you need to know about cholesterol and at-home test kits.

First, what is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a fat found in your blood. There’s good cholesterol, known as high-density lipoprotein (HDL). And there’s bad cholesterol known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL helps protect your heart. LDL builds up on the walls of your arteries, blocking healthy blood flow and raising your stroke and heart attack risk.

Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides also raise your stroke risk.

The National Cholesterol Education Program recommends the following cholesterol levels:

Total cholesterol Less than 200 mg/dL
LDL or “bad” cholesterol Less than 100 mg/dL
HDL or “good” cholesterol 60 mg/dL or higher
Triglycerides Less than 150 mg/dL

How do home cholesterol tests work?

Some home cholesterol tests measure total cholesterol while others measure total cholesterol plus HDL, LDL, and triglyceride levels. Make sure to read labels closely to know exactly what your kit will measure.

You can get a cholesterol test kit with or without a meter. Here’s how they work:

  • Cholesterol kit without a meter: Cholesterol kits come with test strips and a lancet. A lancet is a small, fine blade or needle. You use it to prick your finger to draw a drop of blood. Place the drop of blood on a test strip. The strip will change colors after a minute or two. Compare your test strip color with the color guide that comes with your kit. It will tell you your cholesterol level.
  • Cholesterol kit with a meter. Newer cholesterol kits have an electronic meter much like blood glucose meters used for diabetes. Instead of waiting for your test strip to change colors, you insert it into your meter to measure your cholesterol. These kits cost more than the kits with paper strips only.
  • Mail-in kits. Some kits come with a pre-paid mailer like the American Diabetes Association’s CheckUp America Cholesterol Panel. You take your blood sample at home and then send it to a lab. The lab delivers your results either by phone or on a secure website. One CheckUp America kit costs about $40.

What are the benefits?

Home cholesterol test kits provide a fast and easy way to measure your cholesterol from the convenience of home. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says the home kits can be as accurate as the tests your healthcare provider uses. However, accuracy varies from one brand to another.

While some healthcare providers no longer ask patients to fast for 8 hours or more before a cholesterol test, many still require it. Depending on the kit, you may not have to fast at all.

What are the drawbacks?

While home test kits offer several benefits, they also have shortcomings.

  • Limited measurements. Many kits only measure your overall cholesterol levels. This is not enough information to assess your heart health. You can have a normal total cholesterol level, but still have high LDL or bad cholesterol. To get a clear assessment of your heart health, look for a kit that tests LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels.
  • Hard to read. If you don’t use a kit with an electronic meter, you may have trouble reading the color on the test strip. This will make it more difficult to interpret your test results.
  • Lack of medical evaluation. Home health kits cannot replace your healthcare provider’s insights. Only your physician can consider factors such as your weight, diet, exercise, blood pressure, and whether or not you smoke. This will help your doctor determine the best treatment options for you if your cholesterol is high.

Which home cholesterol kit is best?

An online search for the best home cholesterol kits will yield lists from a variety of sources like Best ReviewsAll Top Guide, and VeryWell Fit. Here’s a look at 3 top-ranking kits.

  1. CardioChek offers starter kits as well as deluxe models. A starter kit comes with an electronic analyzer and 3 total cholesterol test strips, 3 HDL test strips, 3 triglyceride test strips, and 9 lancets. It sells for just over $140 on Amazon.
  2. Solana Health’s Best Home Cholesterol Test measures LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. It includes everything you need, plus a postage-paid return envelope which is sent to a lab. The kit sells for about $46 on Solana Health’s website.
  3. Everlywell manufactures an entire line of at-home health tests from thyroid to food sensitivity. The company’s cholesterol test measures total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides, and includes a pre-paid shipping label and envelope. For $49 on Everlywell’s website, you get the kit plus a follow-up report with insights to your heart health and next steps.

How to save money on at-home test kits

As you can see, the cost of home cholesterol tests varies greatly. Some go for less than the ones mentioned in this article, and others cost much more. To save money, consider what your goals are for cholesterol testing. Do you need to test regularly to see if your medication is working? Are you just curious about your heart health? Answering these questions can help you decide which kit is best for you.

To save on the actual price of a kit:

  • Check the manufacturer’s website for specials
  • Look for coupons or promo codes online
  • Use funds from your flexible spending account (FSA) or your health savings account (HSA)
  • Compare prices on online pharmacies and with mega-retailers like Amazon and Walmart

Over 100 million Americans have total cholesterol levels above the healthy level of 200 mg/dL. Of that number, more than 35 million have levels of 240 mg/dL or higher. Perhaps the best way to save money is to take an at-home cholesterol test, know your numbers, and start working with your doctor towards better heart health.