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Measuring Cholesterol - Heart Health

Cholesterol is measured by a blood test, generally taken after you fast for 12 hours so your most recent meal won't affect the test's accuracy. It is, however, one of those tests that can vary a lot if abnormal, so should be re-done to check the accuracy.

Your blood cholesterol level is measured in units called ‘millimoles per litre of’. This is often shortened to ‘mmol/litre’ or ‘mmol/L’. You will usually receive a cholesterol test result with three readings:

  • Total cholesterol level
  • LDL level (low density lipoprotein cholesterol – the ‘bad’ form)
  • HDL levels (high density lipoprotein cholesterol – the ‘good’ form).

Sometimes there will be a measure of your triglycerides – another form of fat in your blood that’s often raised in people with large stomachs and a tendency to diabetes.

The most important message to take away here is that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ or ‘safe’ cholesterol level.

What counts more is your total risk of a heart attack or stroke. While you should ideally aim to have a total cholesterol level under 4mmol/, with an LDL level under 2mmol/L, especially if you’re at high risk of heart disease, your total risk is determined by a combination of factors including your blood pressure, whether you smoke, your family history, whether you have diabetes, your age and gender. This total picture is called your ‘absolute risk’. It guides your treatment better than any single measure and your doctor can help you assess and interpret it.

Next: Echocardiogram

Last published 31 October 2010

This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

Bupa Australia Pty Ltd makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. Bupa Australia is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of or reliance on the information. Except that which cannot be excluded by law. We recommend that you consult your doctor or other qualified health professional if you have questions or concerns about your health. For more details on how we produce our health content, visit the About our health information page.

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