PocDoc’s Guide to Lipids


PocDoc’s Guide to Lipids

Authored by: Dr Matthew Lee; BMSc, MBBS, MSc

Last Reviewed: March 2024 

What's In This PocDoc Article?

What are Lipids?

Lipids are a type of fat and are essential components of all living things. They store energy for the body, help produce hormones, form cell structures, and help cells communicate. Keeping our lipid levels in balance is essential for good health. 

Dyslipidaemia is a medical condition arising when our lipid levels are not balanced. This can cause health problems like cardiovascular disease.

Lipids and Cardiovascular Disease 

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a set of conditions affecting the heart and blood flow in the body. It includes coronary heart disease (which is also a collection of conditions including chest pain, heart attacks and heart failure), strokes, peripheral arterial disease and aortic disease. One of the leading causes of cardiovascular disease is a buildup of fat inside the arteries. This is called atherosclerosis. It can lead to the blood clots that cause heart attacks and strokes.

A 2017 study involving over 29,000 people from 52 countries found that having high lipid levels was the most significant modifiable risk factor that could be changed to prevent a first heart attack. Because of this connection, groups like the American Heart Association recommend that adults start having regular check-ups of their lipid levels from 20 years old.

The Problem of Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is a massive global problem. In the UK it causes 160,000 deaths each year. That's one person every 3 minutes! It also causes disability and puts a strain on the healthcare system. The good news is that a healthy lifestyle and medicines can often prevent it. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include high body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, lipid levels (especially "bad" cholesterol) and smoking.

PocDoc's Lipid Test 

In our modern-day world, where cardiovascular disease is so common, we need proactive tools to reduce disease risk. That's why the PocDoc Platform, which includes a full lipid marker test, is so valuable. It's easy to use and displays disease risk, including accurate readings of lipid levels, in the time it takes to make a cup of tea. The PocDoc Lipid Test measures:

Measuring these lipids provides a snapshot of the body's lipid levels at the time of doing the test. At PocDoc we believe it's vital to monitor lipid levels over time. This can help assess if lifestyle changes or starting new lipid-lowering medications is positively impacting lipid levels and risk of cardiovascular disease.

Measuring Lipids

Total Cholesterol

Total cholesterol is the sum of all the different types of lipids in the blood. This includes HDL cholesterol (High-Density Lipoprotein), non-HDL cholesterol (non-High-Density Lipoprotein) and triglycerides.

High total cholesterol can lead to atherosclerosis. This is where fat builds up in the arteries and can cause an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. However, there are different types of cholesterol within this total cholesterol measurement; some types of cholesterol are good for your health whilst some are bad.  This is why the PocDoc test, which measures 5 markers, is preferable to a single total cholesterol measurement. 

HDL Cholesterol ("Good" Cholesterol)

HDL cholesterol is the "good" cholesterol. It helps remove "bad" LDL cholesterol from your blood. This stops LDL cholesterol from building up in your arteries. Higher HDL levels can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes. The PocDoc Lipid Test measures HDL cholesterol directly from your blood.

Non-HDL Cholesterol ("Bad" Cholesterol)

The PocDoc Lipid test also measures the "bad" cholesterol, non-HDL cholesterol. This is calculated by the PocDoc algorithm by taking the total cholesterol measurement and subtracting the HDL measurement. The measurement includes LDL cholesterol, VLDL cholesterol and triglycerides. It is an excellent way to check total "bad" cholesterol levels as a single measurement. 

  • LDL Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol carries cholesterol particles around the body. If LDL levels are high, it can cause cholesterol to build up on the walls of the blood vessels, creating plaques. This can lead to blockages and cardiovascular disease. So, keeping LDL at the recommended level is critical to lower cardiovascular disease risk.

  • VLDL Cholesterol

VLDL cholesterol is a type of fat made by the liver. It carries triglycerides around your body; in contrast, LDL cholesterol mainly carries cholesterol. Having too much VLDL can lead to cardiovascular disease

  • Triglycerides

Triglycerides are a type of fat that gives your body energy. Your triglyceride levels can be elevated if you eat more calories than you use. If your levels are consistently elevated, you have a condition known as hypertriglyceridemia. This can contribute to the stiffening and narrowing of your arteries, posing significant health risks. Because of the importance of triglycerides in cardiovascular disease, PocDoc also displays triglycerides as its own measurement.

TC to HDL Ratio

The TC to HDL ratio is a valuable cardiovascular marker. It divides total cholesterol by HDL cholesterol. This ratio measures cholesterol balance and is an important input into calculations for cardiovascular disease risk.  In the UK it is used in the set of algorithms called the QRISK assessment- this calculates an individual's risk of cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years. PocDoc is proud to have partnered with the NHS in order to bring the QRISK assessment into PocDoc to provide the first integrated digital cardiovascular risk assessment tool.

Lipid Level Targets

Doctors use specific guidance issued by international and national disease associations and healthcare systems to determine if lipid levels are in the healthy range. These ranges can differ depending on the country, a person's ethnicity and prior medical history.  The UK's NHS gives the following guidance:

Total Cholesterol:

  • A Healthy Level is 5.0mmol/L or below

HDL Cholesterol ("Good" Cholesterol):

  • A Healthy Level is 1.0mmol/L or above for men
  • A Healthy Level is 1.2mmol/L or above for women

Non-HDL Cholesterol ("Bad" Cholesterol):

  • A Healthy Level is 4.0mmol/L or below

TC:HDL Ratio:

  • A Healthy Level is a ratio of 6 or below


  • Heart UK experts state that non-fasting levels should is below 2.3mmol/L

These ranges are guidelines for the whole population. High or low lipid levels may indicate potential health risks which is why it’s vital you discuss your results with a healthcare practitioner.

Lipids and Cardiovascular Risk Assessment

Certain factors make it more likely you will have lipid levels outside the recommended range. These include a bad diet, being overweight, not being active, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, age and family history.  This in turn leads to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.  Read our full blog on cardiovascular disease risk here.

To keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in check:

  1. Embrace a healthy lifestyle.
  2. Eat a better diet with foods that are high in unsaturated fat rather than foods with high saturated fats.
  3. Stay active, don't smoke, and don't drink too much alcohol.

In some cases you might need medicines to help manage your lipid levels. These can be used in combination with lifestyle changes. These medicines are called lipid-lowering therapies (LLTs) and will be prescribed for you after consultation with a clinician.

Download PocDoc's Lipid Booklet PDF Here

FAQs About Lipid Panels

1. How often should I get a lipid panel test?

  • Regular health checks, including lipid panel testing, are a proactive, sensible option for anyone interested in staying on top of their health. If all your lipid levels are in the healthy ranges, regular testing using PocDoc's lipid marker test can offer you a detailed and proactive understanding of your current health status, and crucially, allows for early detection of potential health issues.
  • By consistently monitoring your lipid levels, you're not just relying on infrequent GP visits or waiting for noticeable symptoms to manifest. Instead, you're taking a proactive, informed approach to your health.

2.What lifestyle changes can improve my lipid profile?

Lifestyle modifications that can improve your lipid profile include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Engaging in regular physical activity
  • Eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins
  • Limiting intake of saturated and trans-fats in your diet
  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol consumption

3. Can I eat before taking a lipid panel test?

  • PocDoc's lipid panel test can be used at any time of day, and after whatever you have been eating and drinking
  • The normal range we use for the results we show assume someone hasn’t been fasting

4. What should I do if my lipid panel results are outside the recommended guideline range?

  • If your lipid panel results fall outside of the recommended range, it's important to discuss these results with a healthcare professional
  • They can provide guidance on potential lifestyle changes or medications that may help to improve your lipid levels and overall cardiovascular health

5. Does PocDoc's lipid panel test hurt?

  • The lipid test is a standard fingerprick blood test, so you might feel a slight pricking sensation when the needle enters your skin
  • Most people do not find the test painful, and any discomfort typically subsides quickly after the test is complete

6. Is a lipid panel the same as a cholesterol test?

  • Simply knowing your total cholesterol can be misleading, as high total cholesterol might be due to high levels of "good" cholesterol. The ratio of these components and the presence of other risk factors play significant roles in cardiovascular health
  • It is crucial to assess "good" and bad cholesterol levels individually, along with triglycerides, as offered by PocDoc's comprehensive lipid panel test
  • This comprehensive cardiovascular risk assessment offered by PocDoc incorporating the QRISK algorithm gives a clearer picture of your cardiovascular risk and allows for a more precise management strategy

Download PocDoc's Lipid Booklet PDF Here

Get in touch to find out more

Contact us Careers

Depositphotos 30462227 L lq