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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.

Who should have a cholesterol test?

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.

Adults aged between 40–74 years, living in England are eligible for a free NHS Health Check which includes a blood cholesterol check. If you have a history of heart disease in the family or you’re concerned you have high cholesterol, speak with your doctor who will be able to offer some advice.

What is a healthy normal cholesterol level in the UK?

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. 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.

In the UK, components of cholesterol are measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood (mmol/L). As a guide, these are the values healthy adults should aim for [Heart UK. Getting a cholesterol test]

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)

It’s important to realise these values are only a guide and your doctor or nurse may recommend different levels for you, depending on other risk factors you have such as smoking or being overweight, and other medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

When you get the results of your blood test, you may only be given the value for total cholesterol, but you can always ask for the values for ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol, as well as triglycerides.

If your cholesterol or triglyceride levels come back as being high, your GP will advise on next steps. This may include offering you help and advice on making changes to your diet and lifestyle, as well as possibly prescribing medication to lower cholesterol.