Explosion in cholesterol testing over time

Drugs for reducing cholesterol are among the most frequently prescribed medicines. 

The University of Oxford has carried out an audit to see if the increase in prescribing has been matched by a rise in cholesterol testing.

Patient information was linked to 20 years of data from the local laboratory. The data were then analysed in three-year blocks. The first two tests a patient had were considered to be for diagnosis, the third and subsequent tests were considered to be for monitoring.

The number of tests increased from 17,382 in 1987 to 291,729 in 2007. Most of the increase was due to rising requests from GPs.

In the first three years only 12% of patients had three or more tests. This rose to 61% in the final three years.

Only 2.3% of patients had more than five tests in the first three-year period. This increased to 9.9% in the final period and the researchers estimated that 42–79% of all recent tests were