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A lot of us take that important first step and find out our cholesterol readings, but understanding them is another matter. Healthcare professionals are happy to sit down with patients and talk results through, but we all know that feeling of stepping out at the end of an appointment and suddenly thinking of a question we wanted to ask.

‘But…what is a normal cholesterol reading? Is mine good? What are the next steps?’

To help out, we’ve put together a handy guide below. Here are some of the most common issues around cholesterol readings explained.

Why do cholesterol readings matter?

Cholesterol is used by the body in lots of different processes, so everyone needs at least some cholesterol in their system. Most of it is produced by the liver and circulated in the blood, and one third of it is the result of our diets.

But when cholesterol levels become elevated, they’re a risk factor for heart disease, so it’s good to keep an eye on your cholesterol and take steps to lower your levels if needed*.

How do I find out what my cholesterol readings are?

To find out your cholesterol levels, the first step is to book a test with your local NHS healthcare provider, or (if it’s more convenient) a pharmacy that provides this service.

There are two common ways cholesterol tests are performed:

  • Finger prick test: So named because it involves a prick of your finger to get a drop of blood, which is then put into a machine to process the results. The entire test takes less than 5 minutes, so you’ll often be able to find out the results right there and then. However, this test often only reveals the total cholesterol level – for the full spectrum of cholesterol readings, you’d want the test using a venous blood sample.
  • Venous blood sample: This test takes slightly longer, but the results are usually more detailed, which can help you better understand the next steps. It involves taking a small vial of blood and sending it off to the lab.

What do cholesterol readings mean?

Here’s the bit many of us struggle with: the unfamiliar acronyms and measurements we see in cholesterol test results.

There are different types of cholesterol, and the most relevant are: LDL-cholesterol (low-density or ‘bad’ cholesterol) and HDL-cholesterol (high-density or ‘good’ cholesterol).

Tests often look at total cholesterol levels, LDL and HDL, and cholesterol ratio – that’s total cholesterol divided by HDL-cholesterol. With the exception of your ratio, they’re usually expressed in mmol/L, which stands for millimoles per litre.

So what is a good cholesterol reading? You can check out our guide to healthy cholesterol levels to find out what the NHS recommendations on total, HDL, and LDL-cholesterol are. For cholesterol ratio recommendations, there’s a guide here.

How do we get good cholesterol readings?

If your cholesterol is elevated, there are plenty of ways you can help get it back to the recommended level. Adjusting your diet and lifestyle to follow a few simple rules can make a real difference. To help, we have a guide to lowering cholesterol here.

[IN UK ONLY] One great way to get started with making these changes is to take the Flora ProActiv 21 Day Challenge. This smartphone app gives practical advice and friendly support in bite-sized chunks. For three weeks you’ll be challenged to eat right, get moving and enjoy ProActiv products, which can help lower cholesterol levels**. Or you can download our free Starter Kit here, and get handy cholesterol lowering advice, coupons, and recipes.#

Your cholesterol readings don’t have to be a mystery! Book a test, and get help maintaining your heart health today. You won’t regret it.

* High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease. As coronary heart disease has many risk factors, more than one may need to be improved to reduce overall risk.