Cholesterol is a concept that is often mentioned, but perhaps not always fully understood. One thing is certain: it is important to keep your cholesterol at a healthy level. But how do you know if your cholesterol level is OK? What are the signs of elevated cholesterol levels? And is it possible to measure this yourself?
What is cholesterol?
Let’s start with the basics. Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in the body and plays an essential role in various bodily processes. It is both produced by the body and found in certain foods.
Cholesterol is necessary for proper body function, but the principle ‘the more, the better’ does not apply here. As with many things in life, excess cholesterol in the body is unhealthy.
What are the symptoms and causes of high cholesterol?
Elevated cholesterol levels, known as hypercholesterolemia, often show no immediate symptoms. It can therefore be useful to regularly check your cholesterol, as it can accumulate unnoticed in the blood vessels and cause plaque formation. This plaque narrows and blocks the arteries, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. Unfortunately, most symptoms usually only occur once damage has already been done.
Some common signs include:
• Shortness of breath
• Pain or weakness in the legs
High cholesterol can have various causes, such as bad luck with your genes or a not so healthy lifestyle, such as smoking, drinking too much and eating a diet full of fat.
What should you pay attention to when measuring your cholesterol?
A cholesterol measurement, carried out by your GP or self-test, usually requires a small blood sample, obtained via a finger prick or laboratory test. This sample is analyzed to measure total cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglycerides. Results are usually available within about three days.
A self-test also usually involves taking a small blood sample, often via a finger prick or a blood test in a laboratory. The blood sample is analyzed by a machine or in the laboratory to measure the different types of cholesterol. The most important measurements are:
|• Total cholesterol (TC) includes both HDL and LDL cholesterol.|
|• HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as ‘good’ cholesterol because it helps remove excess cholesterol from the arteries.|
|• LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol is known as ‘bad’ cholesterol because high levels of LDL cholesterol can contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries.|
|• Triglycerides are fats in the blood that also play a role in the risk of cardiovascular disease.|
The results of the test are presented in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or millimoles per liter (mmol/L), depending on the unit of measurement used. The Dutch Heart Foundation mainly uses mmol/L. It is important to note that cholesterol levels should be assessed along with other health factors, such as age, gender, and family history. In general, the following guidelines apply.
• Normal: lower than 5 mmol/L.
• Increased: between 5 and 8 mmol/L.
• Highly elevated: above 8 mmol/L.
• Higher than 60 mg/dL (1.55 mmol/L) is good.
• Less than 40 mg/dL (1.04 mmol/L) in men or 50 mg/dL (1.29 mmol/L) in women is considered a risk factor.
• Normal: less than 3 mmol/L.
• Elevated: above 3 mmol/L.
• For people with (a high risk of) cardiovascular disease, the target value is 2.6 or even 1.8 mmol/L.
• Normal: less than 2 mmol/L.
• Elevated: above 2 mmol/L.
How do you choose the right cholesterol meter?
It is always advisable to visit your doctor for a cholesterol test. Do you still want to get started yourself? Don’t just order one online, but pay attention to the type of measurement, the accuracy of the measurement, the ease of use, the price and any additional features.
What are the 3 best cholesterol meters?
Swiss Point of Care – Mission 3-IN-1 – A very accurate cholesterol test with a large measuring range. With just one test strip you can measure all your cholesterol levels, including total cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides and cholesterol ratio. It is easy to use and gives results in less than 1 minute. You buy the meter once and then you can always order additional test strips.
Homed IQ – This test measures total cholesterol, LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels. The finger prick test is easy to administer at home, but is then analyzed by a certified laboratory. You will receive the digital results within a few weeks. This test is fast, reliable and without the intervention of a GP.
Wellion Luna Trio 3-IN-1 – The Wellion Luna Trio multifunctional glucose meter allows you to measure 3 different values: glucose, total cholesterol (TC) and uric acid. The results are easy to read on the spacious screen. In addition, the meter has a handy release button to remove the test strip safely and hygienically after the measurement.
When should you sound the alarm?
It is smart to check your cholesterol levels occasionally, especially if you have some risk factors, such as being overweight, diabetes or heart problems in the family. Ask your doctor how often you should do this. It is usually recommended to have your cholesterol tested every 4 to 6 years from the age of 20.
If an elevated cholesterol level has indeed been diagnosed, you will usually be checked more frequently, for example annually during a special cardiovascular consultation.