Blood cholesterol
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Blood cholesterol

Keeping your blood cholesterol at a healthy level can help you reduce your risk of heart disease and other serious conditions.

Key takeaways

  • Cholesterol is essential for the normal functioning of the body 
  • The body produces cholesterol naturally, but it’s also in some foods 
  • High cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease 
  • Living a healthy lifestyle can help lower your cholesterol levels. 

What is blood cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance necessary to make hormones and vitamin D, and to help you digest food. Your body produces cholesterol, and it’s also in some foods.  

The human body uses cholesterol to build cells, but too much can put you at risk of heart disease.  

Types of cholesterol

The two most common types of cholesterol are:  
 
  1. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) – the ‘bad’ cholesterol  
  2. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) – the ‘good’ cholesterol. 

Low-density lipoprotein  

Low-density lipoprotein makes up most cholesterol and is bad because it can stick to the walls of arteries and cause a fatty build-up called plaque. Too much plaque leads to blockages that prevent blood from flowing properly to the heart.  

High-density lipoprotein 

High-density lipoprotein is healthy because it carries LDL away from the arteries and back to the liver to be broken down and then passed as waste. 

Cholesterol and triglycerides 

Triglycerides are the most common fat in the body. Being overweight, eating a lot of high fat and sugary foods, or drinking too much alcohol can increase your triglyceride levels.  
High triglycerides, along with either increased LDL cholesterol or decreased HDL cholesterol can increase your chances of developing fatty build-ups in the arteries – and a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.  

What are the signs and symptoms of high cholesterol? 

High cholesterol generally doesn’t have obvious symptoms, but it can increase the risk of serious health conditions if left untreated. That’s why it’s important to get a blood test and regular check-ups. 

If you are 45 or older (30 or older, if you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander), see your doctor for a cholesterol test as part of a Heart Health Check. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, speak to your GP about your heart disease risk.

Why is high cholesterol bad for you? 

If you have high cholesterol, you can develop fatty deposits in your blood vessels. This makes it difficult for blood to flow through the arteries. If these deposits break apart, they can form a clot that leads to a heart attack or stroke. 

Total cholesterol is a measure that includes good and bad cholesterol. It’s not always the best measure of your risk of heart disease on its own. The best way to understand these levels and your risk for heart disease is to see your GP for a Heart Health Check.

What causes high cholesterol?

There is no single cause of high cholesterol, but there are some controllable risk factors (e.g. smoking) and non-controllable risk factors (e.g. age).

Risk factors for high cholesterol include:

  • Age
  • ​Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Family history
  • ​Unhealthy diet. 

No matter what the cause, improving your lifestyle, including your diet, can help reduce your risk of heart disease. 

How is cholesterol measured?

Cholesterol is measured with a blood test called a lipid panel or lipid profile. A cholesterol test usually involves having your blood drawn from a vein in your arm. The test can help determine your risk of atherosclerosis, which is a build-up of plaque that narrows or blocks arteries.

How to interpret your cholesterol results 

Guidelines for target cholesterol levels vary based on factors such as age and family history, so ask your doctor what levels are right for you.

A full blood-cholesterol test usually checks: 

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL cholesterol
  • HDL cholesterol
  • Triglycerides
  • ​Non-HDL cholesterol.

How can you lower high cholesterol? 

There are several ways to help lower high cholesterol, like staying active and eating or avoiding certain foods. 

Get more information and support  

For personalised information and support on cholesterol and heart health, you can contact the Heart Foundation helpline on 13 11 12. 

You might also be interested in

4 tips to keep your heart healthy while working from home

4 tips to keep your heart healthy while working from home

4 tips to keep your heart healthy while working from home

What's your BMI?

What's your BMI?

What's your BMI?

Are you within a healthy weight range for your height?...

What is angina?

What is angina?

What is angina?

Angina is a type of chest pain or discomfort that’s a symptom of an underlying heart problem, usually coronary heart disease (CHD)....

Cholesterol and triglycerides action plan

Cholesterol and triglycerides action plan

Key steps that can help you manage your cholesterol and triglyceride levels....

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Healthy scalloped potatoes

Healthy scalloped potatoes

Healthy scalloped potatoes

1 hour and 10 minutes
Serves Serves 4 (as a side)

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Every day, 22 women lose their lives to this condition....

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril credits cardiac rehab for getting his life back

Cyril suffered a heart attack in 2015. Cardiac rehab helped get his life back on track. ...

What is atrial fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia where your heart beats irregularly and fast....

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Heart Age Calculator

Try our Heart Age Calculator to understand what contributes to your risk of heart disease....

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Aboriginal heart health

Visit the St Vincents Hospital NSW and Heart Foundation Aboriginal heart health website for more information...

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Fundraise to save Australian hearts

Join our community of fundraisers who are committed to taking action to fight heart disease....

Support for young adults: Online events

Support for young adults: Online events

Support for young adults: Online events

A series of virtual events for young adults on managing emotional wellbeing. ...

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Personal Walking Plan

Feel healthier and happier in six weeks with a free Personal Walking Plan...

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Trek for Australian Hearts

Join the Heart Foundation in South Australia for the journey of a lifetime, trekking the ancient Flinders Ranges to help save Australian hearts....

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Support us and help save Australian hearts

Join the fight against Australia’s biggest killer by supporting the Heart Foundation.  ...

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation Recovery Support and Resources

Heart Foundation programs and resources to support your recovery....

Heart Week

Heart Week

Heart Week

Monday 3 May – Sunday 9 May 2021...

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one. ...

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance

Australian Chronic Disease Prevention Alliance

Alliance with chronic disease prevention stakeholders...

Peter is breathing easy again after heart valve surgery

Peter is breathing easy again after heart valve surgery

Peter is breathing easy again after heart valve surgery

Peter has lived with a rare heart condition since he was 14, but hadn’t given it too much thought until his 30s....

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Driving and travelling after a heart attack

Explore our guide for driving and heart attack recovery. ...

Heart Health Network

Heart Health Network

Heart Health Network

Heart Health Network is the Heart Foundation’s newsletter for health professionals delivered to your inbox once a month....

Workplace giving for employees

Workplace giving for employees

Workplace giving for employees

Your employer’s workplace giving program makes it easy to setup regular, tax-deductible donations from your pre-tax income. ...

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Clinical Guidelines

Full list of clinical guidlines and references for CVD, heart failure, ACS, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, SCAD and RHD...

Support and resources for health care professionals

Support and resources for health care professionals

Support and resources for health care professionals

Our range of clinical and patient support resources are available for you to use in your daily practice....

The Heart Foundation Community

The Heart Foundation Community

The Heart Foundation Community

We need your opinion, experience and skills to help us improve the heart health of all Australians. ...

Key Statistics: Cardiovascular Disease

Key Statistics: Cardiovascular Disease

Statistics and information on Cardiovascular disease in Australia. ...

How can I beat the barriers and get active for a healthy heart?

How can I beat the barriers and get active for a healthy heart?

How can I beat the barriers and get active for a healthy heart?

How to volunteer with us

How to volunteer with us

How to volunteer with us

Join our volunteers and make a difference to the heart health of Australians....

Kid-friendly lentil stew

Kid-friendly lentil stew

30 minutes
Serves 4

Absolute CVD risk assessment resources

Absolute CVD risk assessment resources

Resources and clinical information for health professionals...

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Key healthy eating messages for heart attack recovery 

Eating healthy foods can help you recover and reduce your risk of more heart problems. ...

Smoking and your heart

Smoking and your heart

Smoking and your heart

Understand how smoking can impact your heart health. ...

Lipid management clinical information and resources

Lipid management clinical information and resources

Lipid management resources for health professionals...

Key Statistics: Coronary Heart Disease

Key Statistics: Coronary Heart Disease

Statistics and information on coronary heart disease in Australia ...

Kylie defied the heart attack stereotypes

Kylie defied the heart attack stereotypes

Kylie defied the heart attack stereotypes

Cardiac rehabilitation was a turning point for Kylie and essential to her heart failure recovery....

Donate Monthly | Become a Regular Donor

Donate Monthly | Become a Regular Donor

Donate Monthly | Become a Regular Donor

Join the fight against heart disease....

Q&A with Dr Jessica Orchard

Q&A with Dr Jessica Orchard

Q&A with Dr Jessica Orchard

Cardiac screening of athletes: disparities and differences in electrocardiogram (ECG) interpretation criteria in under-represented populations...