Cholesterol testing explained

Cholesterol testing explained Cholesterol testing explained

By pumping blood around the body, your heart takes good care of you – and there are plenty of different ways to look after it in return. People often talk about exercise and a balanced diet, which are indeed essential for heart health maintenance, but there’s another simple thing we can do to give our hearts a helping hand: know our numbers.

What does this mean? It’s about being aware of our important health statistics, like Body Mass Index (BMI), blood pressure, and – as we will explain below – cholesterol levels. To help out, we’ve put together a handy article explaining the ins and outs of cholesterol testing.

Why get a cholesterol test?

Elevated cholesterol is one of the risk factors of heart disease. Fortunately, cholesterol levels are incredibly straightforward to check! A simple cholesterol test can tell you how much cholesterol you have circulating in your blood. It’s very useful information, and can help motivate you to make the simple but necessary changes for adopting a cholesterol lowering diet when needed.

How cholesterol tests are booked

It shouldn’t be too hard for anyone who wants to get their cholesterol tested to do so. Checks by qualified healthcare professionals are free and easily available on the NHS. To book yourself in, just call your local GP surgery and ask about their procedures for cholesterol testing. Many will have nurse-led clinics which can do a comprehensive health check, and then offer support and advice depending on the results. Some pharmacies also provide this service; ask in store for advice on booking yourself in.

Some local health services actively invite people to come in for cholesterol testing. If you are over 40, doctors will probably want to check your cholesterol every five years, while for those on cholesterol lowering drugs or with a family history of high cholesterol, it’s likely to be more often.

How is cholesterol measured?

There are two main types of cholesterol test – one which takes a blood sample from a vein, and one which takes it from a capillary, the much smaller blood vessels found all over your body. In the first, a healthcare professional will find a vein, usually in your arm or hand, and use a syringe to take a small vial of blood. This is then sent to a laboratory for analysis. While timelines vary, most practices will receive the information in 48 hours and advise patients to ring up to get their results.

In the second type of test, a healthcare professional will use a small pinprick device to draw just a single drop of blood from the tip of a finger. They will then drip it onto a small strip which is inserted into a special device. This gives the results instantly, meaning you will find out your cholesterol level in minutes rather than days.

Once you get the results, your healthcare professional will talk through the numbers to explain what they mean for your health. It’s important that you know not just the important statistics, but what they really indicate. If the numbers are not in the target range, you will usually be given lots of helpful advice about lifestyle changes that you can make. These might include losing some weight, making changes to your diet, or exercising more.

What do my cholesterol test results mean?

Your cholesterol test results should provide your total cholesterol level and the level of LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol in your blood. According to the NHS and Heart UK:

  • Total cholesterol should be 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults, and 4mmol/L or less for those considered to be at ‘high risk’;
  • Non-HDL-cholesterol should be 4 mmol/L or less.
  • LDL-cholesterol should be 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults, and 2mmol/L or less for those at high risk;
  • HDL-cholesterol should be at 1mmol/L; and
  • The lower your cholesterol ratio (total cholesterol divided by HDL cholesterol) is, the better – it should ideally be below four-to-one, according to the NHS, while Heart UK explains that a cholesterol ratio of above 6 is considered ‘high risk’.

There are plenty of resources here on the ProActiv site to help you understand cholesterol better. To find out more about what cholesterol is, check out the definition here, or learn about LDL-cholesterol and HDL-cholesterol in our guide to ‘‘good” and “bad” cholesterol. To understand more about your levels, our article on normal cholesterol levels is here to help. Finally, if you would like to lower your cholesterol, why not download our Cholesterol Lowering Starter Kit?

* Plant sterols have been shown to lower blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. There are many risk factors for coronary heart disease, and it is important to take care of all of them to reduce the overall risk of it. Consuming 1.5-2.4g of plant sterols per day can lower cholesterol by 7-10% in 2-3 weeks when consumed as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle with sufficient fruit and vegetables.