Cholesterol is a fatty substance known as a lipid and is vital for the normal functioning of the body. It is mainly made by the liver but can also be found in some foods we eat.
Having an excessively high level of lipids in your blood (hyperlipidemia) can have an effect on your health. High cholesterol itself does not cause any symptoms, but it increases your risk of serious health conditions.
Normal Cholesterol Level
Blood cholesterol is measured in units called millimoles per litre of blood, often shortened to mmol/L. The government recommends that total cholesterol levels for healthy adults should be 5mmol/L or less, with levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) being 3mmol/L or less
Who should be tested?
Your doctor may recommend that you have your blood cholesterol levels tested if you:
- have been diagnosed with coronary heart disease, stroke or mini-stroke (TIA) or peripheral arterial disease (PAD)
- are over 40
- have a family history of early cardiovascular disease (for example, if your father or brother developed heart disease or had a heart attack or stroke before the age of 55, or if your mother or sister had these conditions before the age of 65).
- have a close family member who has a cholesterol-related condition, such as familial hypercholesterolaemia (inherited high cholesterol)
- are overweight or obese
- have high blood pressure or diabetes
- have another medical condition such as a kidney condition an underactive thyroid gland or an inflamed pancreas (pancreatitis). These conditions can cause increased levels of cholesterol or triglycerides
Why should I lower my cholesterol?
Evidence strongly indicates that high cholesterol can increase the risk of:
- narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- heart attack
- mini-stroke (TIA)
The first step in reducing cholesterol is to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. It is important to keep your diet low in fatty food, especially food containing saturated fat, and eat lots of fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals. This will also help to prevent high cholesterol from returning.
Other lifestyle changes can also make a big difference. It will help to lower your cholesterol if you do regular exercise and quit smoking. Read more information about how to stop smoking and tips on improving your health and fitness.
If these measures are not helping to reduce your cholesterol and you continue to be at a high risk of heart disease, your GP may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication such as statins. Your GP will take into account the risk of any side effects from statins and the benefit of lowering your cholesterol must outweigh any risks.
If you are worried about your cholesterol level you can have it checked at most pharmacies or speak to your GP who will arrange a test if they think it is appropriate.