Open a PDF version to print this topic

HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Understanding your cholesterol results

Te mārama ki ō hua whakamātaunga ngakototo

Cholesterol testCholesterol (also called lipids) is a type of fat that your body makes. We all need some cholesterol for important jobs like making hormones and cells. But we only need a small amount.

High levels of cholesterol can clog up your blood vessels, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes.


Terms used

Total cholesterol: This is the total amount of cholesterol in your blood.

LDL: This is often called bad cholesterol. It takes cholesterol from your liver to different parts of your body. When there is too much of it, cholesterol can build up on the inside of your blood vessels. This makes your blood vessels narrow.

HDL: This is often called good cholesterol. It actually removes cholesterol from your blood and tissues and takes it to your liver, which breaks it down and removes it from your body. If you have more of this type of cholesterol, you may have a lower risk of heart disease or stroke.

Triglycerides: When we eat or drink, any energy we do not need to use immediately is stored in fat cells as triglycerides. If you regularly consume more energy than you need, you can get high triglyceride levels which can increase your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.

Total cholesterol/HDL ratio: This is a calculation used to figure out your risk of stroke and heart attack. The lower the number, the lower your risk.

Normal levels

The normal levels of cholesterol aren't the same for everyone. The levels you should aim for depend on how high your risk is of getting heart disease or having a stroke. Find out how high your risk is by having a heart risk assessment.

New Zealand health guidelines recommend these healthy cholesterol levels:

If you have heart disease, diabetes or peripheral vascular disease, or have had a stroke or TIA, it's important to try to keep your cholesterol levels within these ranges. If you have an increased risk of developing heart disease or diabetes, your general practice team may talk to you about ways to get your cholesterol levels near to these ranges.

High results

If you have high cholesterol but do not have any other risks for heart disease or stroke, you may not need any treatment. But if your cholesterol is very high (more than 8 mmol/L) you'll need to discuss this with your general practice team even if you do not have other risk factors.

If you have had a heart attack or stroke or have peripheral vascular disease or diabetes, your general practice team will want to talk to you about reducing your cholesterol.

If your triglycerides are high, you should have them checked with a fasting blood test. If they stay high, you'll need to make changes to reduce them.

Next steps

You may be able to reduce your cholesterol and triglycerides by eating and drinking for a healthy heart and being physically active.

Stopping smoking and cutting down on alcohol help to lower your cholesterol levels. Reducing alcohol is particularly important if you have high triglycerides.

If these lifestyle changes do not decrease your cholesterol levels, your general practice team may recommend you take a tablet called a statin. Statins reduce your cholesterol levels and reduce the chance of you having a heart attack or stroke. If you've had a heart attack, TIA, stroke, peripheral vascular disease or have a high risk of having these, a statin is recommended even if your cholesterol is normal.

You can read more about high cholesterol, high triglycerides, and healthy eating and weight. Talk to your general practice team for more advice about high cholesterol, a healthier lifestyle and whether you should repeat the blood test.

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed October 2022.


Page reference: 269148

Review key: HIUTR-269145