Word on Health

Word on Cholesterol

Thank you to HEART UK for contributiing to our on-air report (which you can hear again at the bottom of this page) and to NHS Choices for the support information below.   

High cholesterol is when you have too much of a fatty substance called cholesterol in your blood. According to HEART UK Over half of UK adults have raised cholesterol which can lead to heart disease

It's mainly caused by eating fatty food, not exercising enough, being overweight, smoking and drinking alcohol. It can also run in families

You can lower your cholesterol by eating healthily and getting more exercise . Some people also need to take medicine

Too much cholesterol can block your blood vessels. It makes you more likely to have heart problems or a stroke

High cholesterol does not cause symptoms. You can only find out if you have it from a blood test.

Having a cholesterol test. There are 2 ways of having a cholesterol test.

Taking blood from your arm. Some blood will usually be taken from your arm with a needle.

This is sent to a lab to check your cholesterol level. You should get the result in a few days.

You might be asked not to eat anything for up to 12 hours before the test. But this is not always needed.

Finger-prick test. If you're over 40, you may have a test during your NHS Health Check.  (This is a check-up that can help spot early signs of problems like heart disease and diabetes.)

The test can be done by pricking your finger. A drop of blood is put on a strip of paper. This is put into a machine that checks your cholesterol in a few minutes.

If you are concerned about your cholesterol you can ask youir local pharmacy if they'd conduct the test.

What happens next. If you have high cholesterol, a doctor or nurse will talk to you about how you can lower it.

This might include things like changing your diet or taking medicine.

They may also work out your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years.

They can do this using your:

  • cholesterol levels
  • blood pressure
  • height and weight
  • age, sex and ethnicity
  • Lowering your cholesterol can help lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

A cholesterol test can measure:

  • total cholesterol – the overall amount of cholesterol in your blood, including both "good" and "bad" cholesterol
  • good cholesterol (called HDL) – this makes you less likely to have heart problems or a stroke
  • bad cholesterol (called LDL and non-HDL) – this makes you more likely to have heart problems or a stroke
  • triglycerides – a fatty substance similar to bad cholesterol

When you get your result, you may just be told your total cholesterol.

You might be able to get separate results for your good and bad cholesterol and triglycerides. Ask your doctor or nurse.

Check what your cholesterol levels should be

This is just a guide. The levels you should aim for might be different. Ask your doctor or nurse what your levels should be.

Healthy levels for different types of cholesterol

Total cholesterol - healthy level is 5 or below 

HDL (good cholesterol) - healthy level is 1 or above

LDL (bad cholesterol) - healthy level is 3 or below

Non-HDL (bad cholesterol) - healthy level is 4 or below

Triglycerides - healthy level is 2.3 or below

How to lower your cholesterol

Eat less fatty food. To reduce your cholesterol, try to cut down on fatty food, especially food that contains a type of fat called saturated fat.

You can still have foods that contain a healthier type of fat called unsaturated fat.

Check labels on food to see what type of fat it has in it.

Try to eat more:

  • oily fish, like mackerel and salmon
  • brown rice, bread and pasta
  • nuts and seeds
  • fruits and vegetables

Try to eat less:

  • meat pies, sausages and fatty meat
  • butter, lard and ghee
  • cream and hard cheese, like cheddar
  • cakes and biscuits
  • food that contains coconut oil or palm oil.

Exercise more. Aim to do at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of exercise a week.

Some good things to try when starting out include:

  • walking – try to walk fast enough so your heart starts beating faster
  • swimming
  • cycling

Try a few different exercises to find something you like doing. You're more likely to keep doing it if you enjoy it.

Stop smoking. Smoking can raise your cholesterol and make you more likely to have serious problems like heart attacks, strokes and cancer. If you want to stop smoking, you can get help and support from:

  • your GP
  • NHS Stop Smoking Service – your GP can refer you or you can ring the helpline on 0300 123 1044 (England only)

They can give you useful tips and advice about ways to stop cravings.

Cut down on alcohol

  • avoid drinking more than 14 units of alcohol a week
  • have several drink-free days each week
  • avoid drinking lots of alcohol in a short time (binge drinking)

Ask your GP for help and advice if you're struggling to cut down.

Medicines for high cholesterol

You might need medicine to lower your cholesterol if:

  • your cholesterol level has not gone down after changing your diet and lifestyle
  • you're at a high risk of having a heart attack or stroke

Ask your doctor about the medicines you can take.

Statins are the most common medicine for high cholesterol. They reduce the amount of cholesterol your body makes.You take a tablet once a day. You usually need to take them for life.

Other medicines may be used if statins do not work or you do not want to take statins. These include: tablets – such as ezetimibe, fibrates and bile acid sequestrants (also called resins) and injections – such as alirocumab and evolocumab.

Listen to this weeks radio report

All material on this website is provided for your information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. No action or inaction should be taken based solely on the contents of this information; instead, readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and well-being.