A straightforward cholesterol test by your doctor can show whether your total cholesterol is above the recommended level of 5mmol/l or 4.5mmol/l for people with diabetes (European Society of Cardiology guidelines).
There is no need to attend a specialist in order to have a cholesterol test. This can be by attending your GP. Some GPs have the equipment for performing such testing in their surgeries but this is not very common.
A blood sample can be taken in the surgery and then sent to a hospital laboratory for analysis. You should have the results within a few days. It is normally recommended that a blood sample for cholesterol testing be taken in the morning with the person having fasted after evening meal the night before.
Another option is for you to attend your local hospital blood clinic, with a GP referral letter. Staff here will take the blood test and have it analysed. The results will be sent back to your GP who will then contact you to discuss them.
A more detailed analysis is required to check the breakdown of 'good' and 'bad' cholesterol, if your cholesterol is above recommended levels. This may involve a visit to a hospital to give a blood sample for analysis or your GP may take the sample and send it to the hospital.
Your doctor will also assess your overall risk of a heart attack or other event. A tool often used to help make this assessment is a Coronary Risk Chart devised by cardiology experts in Europe. This looks at your overall health profile including your gender, age, cholesterol and blood pressure status and whether or not you are a smoker. They will also take your family history of heart disease into consideration.
Depending on your risk factors, lifestyle measures may be initially tried to see if this has an impact on your cholesterol. However, in certain cases statins (cholesterol lowering drugs) will be required in addition to changes in diet and exercise.
If you are at risk, cholesterol control can make a big impact on your chance of a heart attack or other forms of heart disease. A major international study in 1995 showed that using treatment with statins reduced the incidence of a heart attack by 31% and death from cardiovascular disease by 22%. Since then many other international studies have confirmed these results.