To determine the potential effect of screening on referral patterns, an adult population sample (4,404 men, 5,164 women, 20-69 years of age) was systematically recruited and screened for hypercholesterolemia and then analyzed by different cholesterol referral recommendations. Using levels suggested by the Lipid Research Clinics Coronary Primary Prevention Trial (≥265 mg/dL), 7.3% of men and 5.8% of women would be referred for follow-up. With the suggested recommendations of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP), (≥200 mg/dL), 49.2% of men and 40.2% of women would be referred. The use of age-related definitions of the NIH Consensus Conference on Lipid Lowering results in 28.0% referrals in men and 21.8% in women. From this population, hypercholesterolemia subjects (≥265 mg/dL at screening; n = 624) were invited for a second cholesterol determination (58% returned), which found 36% below the 265 mg/dL level. Population screening for cholesterol is likely to produce large numbers of patients for follow-up, with the actual numbers strongly dependent on cutoff levels and age-sex distributions. Referral and follow-up of these patients may place a significant load on an unprepared health care community.