We all need some cholesterol in our bodies just to keep us ticking over, but having too much can clog up your arteries and lead to health problems in the future.

By getting a simple cholesterol test and making positive lifestyle changes, most people can keep their cholesterol levels healthy. So, this National Cholesterol Month ‘Let’s Talk About Cholesterol’.

It is recommend that all adults should get a cholesterol check – no matter what your age or how healthy you feel.

High cholesterol doesn’t usually have any signs or symptoms, so the only way to know your cholesterol levels is to get a check.

It’s possible to have raised cholesterol even if you’re young, fit, and feel healthy – because your cholesterol levels depend on your genes as well as your lifestyle. 

A cholesterol check involves a simple blood test. Your doctor should also check your levels of another fat called triglycerides, as these also affect your heart health. 

High cholesterol can lead to heart attacks and strokes. A cholesterol test can be used along with other simple tests to give a good idea of your heart health and if you’re at risk of health problems. These include a blood pressure test and finding out your BMI and waist measurement. The results will show you if you need to make any lifestyle changes or need treatment

What Does A Cholesterol Check Involve?

You can have your cholesterol tested using a simple blood test. This is often a finger prick test. It’s quick, you only feel a small pinch, and the results can be checked there and then. Or, you might have a small blood sample taken from your arm using a needle and syringe, which will be sent off for testing.

You can eat and drink normally before the test unless your doctor asks you not to. If you have a sample taken with a needle and syringe, you might be asked not to eat for 10-12 hours beforehand, usually overnight.

The test should include the amounts of the different types of cholesterol and triglycerides.

What do the results of a cholesterol test mean?

When you have a cholesterol test, it is really important that your healthcare professional explains the results to you, to prevent unnecessary worry and confusion about the results. The results will include different types of cholesterol

 Ask for a print out of your results if you are not able to speak to your GP, nurse or pharmacist.

Total cholesterol

This is sometimes written as ‘serum cholesterol’ or ‘TC’ and refers to the overall level of cholesterol. But it’s not just the total cholesterol that’s important.

Non-HDL cholesterol

Your non-HDL cholesterol is your total cholesterol minus your HDL cholesterol. It’s the LDL and all the other ‘bad’ cholesterol added together, and ideally should be as low as possible.

HDL cholesterol

Your HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein, or ‘good’ cholesterol) helps clear the cholesterol out of your arteries, while your LDL cholesterol (low density lipoprotein, or ‘bad’ cholesterol) can clog them up. So your HDL cholesterol should be above 1mmol/L in men and above 1.2mmol/L in women, ideally around 1.4mmol/L.  Currently our specialists believe that levels above this may not provide additional protection.

TC:HDL ratio

You might be given a ratio of HDL compared to the total cholesterol, written as TC:HDL ratio. You can work it out from your HDL and total cholesterol numbers. This should be as low as possible. Above 6 is considered high.

Interpreting your results

Your cholesterol results should be interpreted in relation to any other risk factors you may have (these are things which can lead to heart problems such as high blood pressure, being overweight or smoking) and any other health conditions (such as diabetes). Because of other risk factors or medical conditions, your doctor may recommend lowering your cholesterol level.

What is a healthy cholesterol level?

Sometimes you might be given your total cholesterol only. If this happens, ask for a break-down of the numbers. It’s possible to have a healthy total cholesterol level but an unhealthy ratio of total cholesterol to HDL.

As a minimum, you should be given the total cholesterol (TC) and HDL numbers, then you can work out your cholesterol ratio.

The figures in this table are a general guide for ideal cholesterol and triglyceride levels for healthy adults in the UK. If you have conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, your target levels may be lower. Your doctor will be able to tell you what your individual targets should be.

To find out more information visit the Heart UK Website