I am
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....

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. ...

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

Could you be at risk of heart disease? Get your estimated heart age now....

Research Directory

Research Directory

Heart Health Check Toolkit

Heart Health Check Toolkit

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

MyMarathon

The fundraising race where you set the pace. Run, jog or walk MyMarathon at your own pace during October....

Christmas recipes

Christmas recipes

Christmas recipes

Find heart healthy festive recipes. ...

Our Annual Reports

Our Annual Reports

Our Annual Reports

Discover our Annual reports from 2013 onwards. ...

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

Feelings and emotions after a heart attack

This is a guide to how you might be feeling after a heart attack. ...

What is cardiac rehab?

What is cardiac rehab?

What is cardiac rehab?

Cardiac rehab is proven to keep you out of hospital and reduce your risk of death from heart conditions....

For professionals: Guidelines for acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

For professionals: Guidelines for acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease

Australian  guidelines  for  prevention, diagnosis and  management of  acute  rheumatic  fever and  rheumatic  heart  disease ...

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Information and resources for healthcare professionals....

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Women and heart disease

Information on women and heart disease for consumers....

Lipid management clinical information and resources

Lipid management clinical information and resources

Lipid management resources for health professionals...

Research shows if you have gum disease, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease.

Research shows if you have gum disease, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease.

Research shows if you have gum disease, you’re twice as likely to have heart disease.

Lamb recipes

Lamb recipes

Lamb recipes

Find heart healthy lamb recipes....

Clinical resources: Coronary heart disease and mental health

Clinical resources: Coronary heart disease and mental health

The prevalence of depression is high in patients with coronary heart disease (CHD)....

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....

Apple & honey nut crumble oats

Apple & honey nut crumble oats

Apple & honey nut crumble oats

10 minutes

Heart procedures and devices

Heart procedures and devices

Heart procedures and devices

If you have a heart condition, your doctor may recommend treatment or procedures...

Heart attack recovery – your first month

Heart attack recovery – your first month

Heart attack recovery – your first month

Explore the Heart Foundation’s guide on what to expect in the first month after your heart attack. ...

For Professionals: COVID-19 & cardiovascular disease

For Professionals: COVID-19 & cardiovascular disease

For Professionals: COVID-19 & cardiovascular disease

Information and resources for health care professionals....

GLOBAL CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

GLOBAL CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

GLOBAL CARDIOVASCULAR RESEARCH FUNDERS FORUM

FACILITATING INTERNATIONAL CLINICAL TRIALS ...

Register your cardiac service with the Heart Foundation

Register your cardiac service with the Heart Foundation

This cardiac services directory presents information on cardiac rehab programs offered across Australia....

Italian recipes

Italian recipes

Italian recipes

Find heart healthy Italian recipes....

Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring

Coronary Artery Calcium Scoring

A coronary artery calcium score can be used following a Heart Health Check to estimate your risk of heart attack....

Our corporate partners

Our corporate partners

Our corporate partners

We value the support of all of our corporate partners....

The NSW Cardiac Rehabilitation Working Group

The NSW Cardiac Rehabilitation Working Group

Action Plans

Action Plans

Action Plans

Recovery is a long journey, so having a plan makes a huge difference. Using an action plan gives you a step-by-step guide to improving your lifestyle....

Absolute CVD risk charts

Absolute CVD risk charts

Absolute CVD risk charts provide a visual tool to calculate CVD risk for use in practice in Australia....

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

Time to book a Heart Health Check?

If you're 45 and over, or 30 and over if you're of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, you should book your Heart Health Check today...

Heart Week

Heart Week

Philanthropic investments

Philanthropic investments

Philanthropic investments

Making philanthropic investments through the Heart Foundation can transform Australians’ health. ...