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Understanding Your Test Results

The only way to find out if your blood cholesterol levels are too high is to have your blood tested. High cholesterol has no symptoms and can develop with no warning signs.

A simple blood test

The test for cholesterol levels is quite simple. A sample of blood will be taken from your arm and analyzed. Cholesterol tests provide your doctor with important information about the amount and types of fats in your blood stream.

What is measured? What it tells your doctor
Total cholesterol The total amount of all types of cholesterol in your blood. This includes LDL and HDL cholesterol.
Low density lipoprotein – LDL or “bad” cholesterol The amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL can form fatty deposits, called plaque, that can narrow the arteries and reduce the flow of blood.
High density lipoprotein -HDL or “good” cholesterol The amount of HDL cholesterol in your blood. Higher levels of HDL can help reduce the amount of plaque in your arteries by helping to remove cholesterol from your bloodstream.
Total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio This is a ratio, therefore there is no unit of measurement. This ratio shows how high your HDL cholesterol is relative to your overall cholesterol levels and is considered to be a better indicator of heart disease risk, than total cholesterol alone. It is calculated by dividing your total cholesterol number by your HDL cholesterol number. A low ratio is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Triglycerides The amount of triglycerides in your blood. Triglycerides are a type of fat that is strongly linked to heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol. High triglyceride levels are linked to low HDL cholesterol levels, excess body weight and poorly controlled diabetes.

Setting cholesterol targets

Your doctor is the best person to set your targets and interpret your test results. Your doctor will set your cholesterol targets based on a variety of factors that affect your risk of heart disease and stroke, including your age, gender, weight and lifestyle. Your goal should be to keep your LDL and triglyceride levels low and your HDL levels high.

There are no ‘ideal’ target levels for the amount and types of fats in your blood stream. However, Canadian guidelines for lipid treatment and management19 have identified 3 main categories of heart disease risk and provide the following general recommendations for cholesterol targets:

If your risk of heart disease* is: Your LDL cholesterol target should be: And your total cholesterol/HDL cholesterol ratio target** should be:
High (20% or higher) less than 2.0 mmol/L AND less than 4.0
Moderate (11-19%) less than 3.5 mmol/L AND less than 5.0
Low (10% or lower) less than 5.0 mmol/L AND less than 6.0

* based on your risk factors

** because this is a ratio, there is no unit of measurement

Your doctor will determine your level of risk, set your cholesterol targets and monitor you regularly to see if you are meeting those targets. The good news is that most people can reach their cholesterol targets by making lifestyle changes but some people may also need medication to control their cholesterol.

How often should I have my cholesterol tested?

Your risk factors and cholesterol test results will determine how often you need to be tested. High cholesterol can develop with no warning, so cholesterol testing is the best way to monitor your cholesterol levels.

Converting Measurements

Talk to your doctor to determine if you’re a candidate for regular cholesterol testing

Regular blood tests are recommended for people who are at higher risk of developing high cholesterol. Routine cholesterol testing may be necessary if you:

  • Are a man over 40
  • Are a woman over 50
  • Are a postmenopausal woman
  • Have heart disease or have had a stroke
  • Have diabetes
  • Have a close relative (mother, father, sister, brother) with heart disease or high cholesterol
  • Are overweight, physically inactive, smoke and/or drink excessively
  • Have physical signs of high cholesterol such as fatty deposits on your skin or tendons
  • Have high blood pressure