Cholesterol is a fatty substance known as a lipid and is vital for the normal working of the body. It’s mainly made by the liver, but can also be found in some foods.

Having a very high level of cholesterol in your blood can have an effect on your health.

High cholesterol itself doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, but it raises your risk of serious health problems.

About cholesterol

There are 2 main types of cholesterol:

  • “good” cholesterol (called HDL) – this carries cholesterol away from the cells and back to the liver, where it’s either broken down or passed out of the body as a waste product
  • “bad” cholesterol (called LDL) – this carries cholesterol to the cells that need it, but if there’s too much cholesterol for the cells to use, it can build up in the blood vessels

The amount of cholesterol in the blood – both HDL and LDL – can be measured with a blood test.

Why should I lower my cholesterol?

High cholesterol can raise the risk of:

This is because cholesterol can build up in the blood vessels, blocking the blood flow to your heart, brain and the rest of your body.

What causes high cholesterol?

Many things can raise your cholesterol.

These include:

There’s also a condition that runs in families called familial hypercholesterolaemia. This can cause high cholesterol even in someone who eats healthily.

Read more about the causes of high cholesterol.

When should my cholesterol levels be tested?

Your GP may suggest you have a test if:

  • you have or have had heart disease, stroke or mini stroke (TIA)
  • heart problems or high cholesterol run in your family
  • are overweight
  • have high blood pressure or diabetes

Read more about how cholesterol is tested.

What should my cholesterol levels be?

As a guide, total cholesterol levels should be:

  • 5mmol/L or less for healthy adults
  • 4mmol/L or less for those at high risk

As a guide, LDL levels should be:

  • 3mmol/L or less for healthy adults
  • 2mmol/L or less for those at high risk

An ideal level of HDL is above 1mmol/L. A lower level of HDL can raise your risk of heart disease.

How can I lower my cholesterol level?

The first step to lower your cholesterol is to have a healthy, balanced diet low in fatty food.

You can swap fatty food for fruit, vegetables and wholegrain cereals.

Other things like doing more exercise and giving up smoking can also help.

If these do not reduce your cholesterol, your GP may prescribe a medicine such as statins.

Read more about how high cholesterol is treated.