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Understanding Cholesterol Levels

Blood cholesterol levels are measured with a blood test known as a lipid profile.

Get help understanding good and bad cholesterol levels

A Look at the Numbers

To understand the risk that cholesterol poses to your health it is important to know your numbers – especially the amount of the bad cholesterol (LDL-C) in your blood. 

If you have other heath conditions, like high blood pressure or diabetes, you have an increased chance of developing heart and vascular disease (also called cardiovascular disease), and even more reason to pay close attention to your cholesterol levels and understand what they mean.1

In the UK, cholesterol and triglycerides are measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, usually shortened to mmol/L. Your lipid profile will include numbers for total cholesterol (the amount of all the fats in your blood) as well as numbers for  LDL-C (the bad cholesterol), HDL-C (the good one) and triglycerides.

Here are a few suggested targets from the National Health Service (NHS)2:

A total cholesterol of 5 mmol/L or less is considered healthy for most people. In the UK around 50% of adults have cholesterol levels above 5 mmol/L.2


NHS Desirable Total Cholesterol Levels2
<5mmol/L For healthy adults
<4mmol/L For people at high risk of cardiovascular disease (if you have other conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or have experienced a cardiovascular event that increases your risk)

For most adults an LDL-C level of below 3 mmol/L is considered healthy. If you have other health conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes or you have already had a cardiovascular event it is recommended that your LDL-C target is less than 2 mmol/L.


NHS Desirable LDL-C Levels2
<3 mmol/L For healthy adults
<2 mmol/L
For people at high risk (if you have other conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or have experienced a cardiovascular event that increases your risk)

Triglycerides and HDL are also part of your total cholesterol count and recommended levels can often be reached through diet and exercise.


NHS Desirable Triglyceride Levels2
<1.7 mmol/L

Heart UK Desirable HDL-C Levels3
>1 mmol/L for men
>1.2 mmol/L for women

Diet and exercise can help reduce cholesterol, however LDL-C may be difficult to bring down to healthy levels and you may require cholesterol-lowering medicine to help reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.4


References:

  1. British Heart Foundation. Reducing your blood cholesterol. Available at: https://www.bhf.org.uk/~/media/files/publications/heart-conditions/his3_0114_reducing-your-blood-cholestero_a6.pdf [Last accessed 27 February 2017]
  2. NHS. High cholesterol – Diagnosis. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cholesterol/Pages/Diagnosis.aspx [Last accessed 27 February 2017]
  3. Heart UK. Cholesterol tests – know your number.  Available at: http://heartuk.org.uk/health-and-high-cholesterol/cholesterol-tests---know-your-number  [Last accessed 27 February 2017]
  4. NHS. High cholesterol – Treatment. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Cholesterol/Pages/Treatment.aspx [Last accessed 27 February 2017]