What do my cholesterol results mean?

Cholesterol testing (or lipid testing) checks your levels of good and bad cholesterol to see if you need lifestyle changes or medicine to keep you healthy.

Cholesterol is a type of fat your body makes. There are different types of cholesterol. You need a small amount of cholesterol to make hormones and cells, but too much of the wrong kind of cholesterol can be bad for you. 

High levels of the 'bad' cholesterol can clog up your blood vessels, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes. Read more about cholesterol

Understanding your cholesterol levels

New Zealand guidelines for blood cholesterol levels are as follows.

Cholesterol: Acceptable range What does this mean?
LDL: Less than 2.0 mmol/L
  • LDL is often called 'bad' cholesterol.
  • It takes cholesterol from your liver to different parts of your body.
  • When there's too much LDL cholesterol, it builds up on the inside of your blood vessels.
  • This makes your blood vessels narrow, putting you at risk of heart disease or stroke.
HDL: Greater than 1.0 mmol/L
  • HDL is often called 'good' cholesterol.
  • HDL takes extra cholesterol away from your arteries to your liver, to prepare it to be removed from your body.
  • Higher levels of HDL lower your risk of heart disease or stroke.
Triglycerides: Less than 1.7 mmol/L
  • Triglycerides store and transport fat in your blood.
  • Energy from food and alcohol that your body doesn't use is changed to triglycerides.
  • High triglycerides increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Total cholesterol: Less than 4.0 mmol/L
  • This is a rough measure of all the cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.
Total cholesterol/HDL ratio: Less than 4.0
  • This is the ratio of your total cholesterol to your HDL cholesterol. This ratio is used to estimate your risk of heart attack and stroke.

(British Heart Foundation, UK, 2018)

What does it mean if my cholesterol levels are high?

Your cholesterol levels give information about your overall health and your risk of cardiovascular (heart) disease, such as a heart attack or stroke

Talk to your healthcare provider about your results. They will look at your other cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as your age, gender, blood pressure and whether you smoke or have diabetes, before deciding what needs to happen next.

Stopping smoking, eating a healthier diet and being more active lower your risk of heart disease. If your risk is high enough, you might need to take medicines to lower your cholesterol levels. 

Learn more

Cholesterol testing
High cholesterol 
What can I do to lower my cholesterol?
Heart risk assessment

Reviewed by

Dr Sharon Leitch is a general practitioner and Senior Lecturer in the Department of General Practice and Rural Health at the University of Otago. Her area of research is patient safety in primary care and safe medicine use.
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Sharon Leitch, GP and Senior Lecturer, University of Otago Last reviewed: 05 Nov 2020