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Understanding your cholesterol level

It might seem a little daunting, but measuring your blood cholesterol is a great first step in becoming healthier.

This simple test – carried out by your doctor, nurse or pharmacist – will give you a cholesterol level. And if you know your level, you can do something about it.

Anyone can have their blood cholesterol level tested, but it’s particularly important for people that are over 40 years old, have high blood pressure, are overweight, or have a family history of coronary heart disease.

What is a healthy cholesterol level?

Your cholesterol level is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L.

It is recommended that healthy adults should have a total cholesterol level below 5 mmol/L. In the UK, three out of five adults have a total cholesterol level of 5 mmol/L or above, and the average cholesterol level is about 5.7 mmol/L, which can be a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease.

However, it’s important to remember that as well as your cholesterol level, other factors such as smoking and high blood pressure are risk factors for the development of coronary heart disease.

The total cholesterol level includes LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). The risk of coronary heart disease is particularly high if you have a high level of LDL cholesterol and a low level of HDL cholesterol. Individual levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol will vary and your doctor will be able to give you specific advice based on your own results.

As a guide, these are the values healthy adults should aim for [Heart UK]:

Total cholesterol Below 5
Non-HDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol Below 4
LDL cholesterol Below 3
HDL or ‘good’ cholesterol Above 1 for men and 1.2 for women
TC:HDL ratio The lower the better – above 6 is considered a high risk
Triglycerides Below 2.3 (non-fasting)

Below 1.7 (fasting)