Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of fat in your blood. Most cholesterol is made by your body, but eating fatty foods can lead to high cholesterol levels in your blood. Your arteries may clog up with the fatty cholesterol and this can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Key Points

  1. You cannot tell or feel if you have high cholesterol.
  2. Having your cholesterol checked is very simple.
  3. Talk to your doctor or nurse about your overall heart risk and what you can do to keep your heart and cholesterol numbers well controlled.
  4. With treatment and lifestyle changes, the risks of complications from high cholesterol are much less.
  5. If you need medication, take it every day as prescribed and ask questions if you don't understand anything.  

How do I know if I have high cholesterol?

High cholesterol usually does not have symptoms. The only way to find out if your cholesterol is high is to have a blood test.

When a doctor takes a blood sample they will measure the different types of cholesterol in your blood and also the amount of triglycerides. This is called a lipid (fat) profile.

Your doctor will advise you of the results of the cholesterol tests and what these mean in relationship to your age, sex and general health profile.

According to New Zealand guidelines an ideal lipid profile is:
Total cholesterol Less than 4.0 mmol/L *
LDL cholesterol Less than 2.0 mmol/L *
HDL cholesterol Greater than 1.0 mmol/L
Total cholesterol/HDL ratio Less than 4.0
Triglycerides Less than 1.7 mmol/L
* Note: These lower targets are appropriate for people who have heart disease, diabetes or kidney disease. Check with your doctor what your target level should be.

Read more about cholesterol testing

What is the treatment for high cholesterol?

If your cholesterol level is too high your doctor may give you medication. Statins are one of the common medications given to help to lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

What else can I do to lower my cholesterol?

You may be able to reduce your cholesterol by making changes to your lifestyle such as:

  • Eating healthy foods, including lots of fruit and vegetables, low or reduced fat milk, lean meat, nuts and seeds.
  • Avoiding takeaways and deep fried foods, cakes, biscuits, pastries and chips.
  • Reducing red meat, cheese and butter.
  • Staying at a healthy weight.
  • Exercising regularly – being active for at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week.
  • Not drinking too much alcohol.

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(Image source: bpac)

Learn more

What your lipid test means for you Best Practice Advisory Centre (NZ)
Lifestyle tips to cut cholesterol Better Health Channel (AU)
Cholesterol management Heart Foundation (NZ)
Cholesterol – Explained Watch, Learn, Live: Interactive Cardiovascular Library – American Heart Association

Reviewed By: Health Navigator NZ Last reviewed: 04 Feb 2015