What is a cholesterol test, how to test it & what does it show? 

Cholesterol plays a vital role in the production of healthy cell membranes, bile acids and hormones. Raised levels of cholesterol can however be harmful as they can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks, strokes, angina and peripheral vascular disease. Therefore, maintaining low levels of cholesterol levels is important to preserve our heart and general health.

What is a cholesterol test?

Cholesterol tests, also called lipid panels, measure cholesterol levels in the blood.

Raised cholesterol levels usually have no signs or symptoms so the only way of finding out what your cholesterol level is to have a test. It is possible to have a raised cholesterol even if you are young, fit and eat a healthy diet. It is particularly recommended to have a test to ascertain your cholesterol levels if you fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Over 40 years old
  • Overweight
  • Family history of heart problems
  • Diabetic
  • Smoker
  • Hypertensive

There are two main types of cholesterol tests: blood sample and rapid finger prick.

Blood sample

The blood sample test simply involves drawing a small sample of blood from a person’s inner arm with a needle. This is commonly undertaken by a nurse or phlebotomist, and the process is quick and usually only produces mild discomfort for a short time.  The sample is then sent to a lab to be examined and results should be available within a few days. You may be asked to fast for up to 12 hours prior to your test, however this is not always necessary.

Rapid finger prick

Cholesterol levels can also be assessed with a rapid finger prick test, which is generally an option taken by those who would prefer to take their own sample from the comfort of their own home. With this method, a finger prick is used to collect a drop of blood, which is then put onto a strip of paper to be read by a small digital device. The results are displayed on the device’s screen within a few minutes.

What does a cholesterol test show?

Cholesterol tests show the levels of different types of cholesterol, including:

  • Triglycerides: types of fats produced from excess calories that haven’t been used by the body. Triglycerides levels are prone to be higher in people who consistently eat more calories than they burn.
  • HDL (High Density Lipoprotein): this is referred to as ‘good’ cholesterol, as it helps eliminate excess cholesterol from the blood. Low levels of HDL therefore increase the risk of heart disease.
  • LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein): this is referred to as “bad” cholesterol, as it builds up in artery walls and can then hardens, causing the arteries to become narrower -thereby increasing the risk of heart disease.
  • Cholesterol ratio: this is more indicative of the risk of cardiovascular and heart disease risk than cholesterol alone. The higher the ratio, the higher the risk of heart disease.

How can I check my cholesterol at home?

At Bluecrest, we offer various levels of home test kits, which all include cholesterol levels checks. This is a low-cost option which allow you to ascertain not only your cholesterol levels, but also give you a comprehensive blood analysis to understand what is happening inside of your body.

All the Home Test Kits include:

  • A sample blood collection kit sent straight to your door
  • Results within 8 days of full UKAS accredited laboratory analysis
  • Access to your results through your own secure online MyWellness account
  • 24/7 GP Helpline access

What is the normal cholesterol level?

The typical healthy cholesterol levels are highlighted in the tables below – however it is essential to note that this can only be used as general guidance, particularly since recommended levels may differ in line with individual circumstances:

Recommended range
Units Male Female
Triglycerides mmol/L <1.7 <1.7
Cholesterol mmol/L <5.0 <5.0
HDl Cholesterol mmol/L 1.1-2.3 1.2 – 2.3
LDL Cholesterol mmol/L 0-3.0 0-3.0
TC/HDL Ratio Ratio <4.0 <4.0
Recommended range
Units Male Female
Triglycerides mmol/L <2.3 <2.3
Cholesterol mmol/L <5.0 <5.0
HDl Cholesterol mmol/L 1.1-2.3 1.2 – 2.3
Non-HDL Cholesterol mmol/L <4.0 <4.0
TC:HDL Ratio Ratio <4.0 <4.0

You can keep your cholesterol levels low by doing the following:

  • Avoid saturated fats: it is recommended that men and women’s daily intake of saturated fats does not exceed 30g and 20g respectively. Food labels are a great way to keep this under control, with general guidelines being that 5g or more of saturated fat per 100g is considered high, and under 1.5g of saturated fat per 100g is regarded as low. Foods that are commonly high in saturated fats include fatty meats, butter, cream, hard cheese, cakes, biscuits and foods containing palm oil.
  • Increase your ‘healthy fats’ intake: unsaturated fats, also referred to as ‘healthy fats’ are highly beneficial for our general health and cholesterol levels. You can increase your intake by eating more oily fish (such as salmon and mackerel), seeds, nuts, and avocados.
  • Exercise more: from gentle walks to vigorous exercise, any type of physical activity has a positive impact on cholesterol levels as it increases our levels of HDL (‘good’ cholesterol), which aids the elimination of fatty deposits in the arteries. As a general guideline, it is recommended to do at least 2.5 hours of exercise per week.
  • Quit smoking: smoking causes the arteries to become narrower, which prevents our HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) from moving fatty deposits to the liver to be broken down. This does not only mean higher levels of cholesterol, but it can also result in serious heart problems such as heart attacks and in strokes.
  • Keep your levels in check: make sure you get tested regularly to keep track of your levels and act accordingly. Understanding your numbers is the first step towards efficient cholesterol management and better heart health.
  • Manage your weight: being obese or overweight increases the chance of having high cholesterol levels and associated heart problems. Therefore it is essential to keep an eye on our weight and strive to keep a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index).

To find out more about managing your cholesterol levels, see our guide here.

How does not fasting affect your cholesterol test?

There are some misconceptions around the need to fast before a cholesterol test. In fact, it was previously believed by experts that fasting before a cholesterol test produced more accurate results as LDL (also known as ‘bad’ cholesterol) and triglyceride levels may be affected by recent food intake. However, new guidelines published some years ago mean that fasting is no longer required. Home tests are therefore a very convenient way to test cholesterol levels as there is no need to think about fasting before doing your test. All of Bluecrest’s home test kits do not require any fasting or test preparation and will provide you with readings not only on your cholesterol levels, but also many other important key health markers.

How often should cholesterol be checked?

Healthy adults should get a cholesterol test done every 5 years. However, it is recommended that those with cardiovascular issues, chronic health issues, and/or other health risks should get tested more frequently.

Whether they are done via blood sample or rapid finger-prick, home cholesterol tests are a great way to measure cholesterol levels in between tests undertaken by a phlebotomist, nurse or GP. Bluecrest offers cholesterol tests both in the form of home test kits and clinics appointments with a health professional:

At a clinic

You can book a health check with one of our Certified Healthcare professionals at one of over 2,000 mobile clinics nationwide. All of our Health MOT Packages include a cholesterol test, in addition to a wide array of health markers for a detailed view of your health. You can choose between 3 levels of testing to suit your own personal needs.

At Home

Alternatively, you can get a liver function test from the comfort of your own home with one of our Home Test Kits, which all include a cholesterol test and also assess a variety of other key readings pertaining to your general health. All you need to do is order your kit, take your own sample, send it back in our pre-addressed return envelope, and wait to receive your results online within 8 days.