Reduction of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) is presently the primary focus of lipid-lowering therapy for prevention and treatment of coronary heart disease (CHD). However, the high level of residual risk among statin-treated patients in recent coronary prevention studies indicates the need for modification of other major components of the atherogenic lipid profile. There is overwhelming evidence that a low plasma level of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) is an important independent risk factor for CHD. Moreover, a substantial proportion of patients with or at risk of developing premature CHD typically exhibit distinct lipid abnormalities, including low HDL-C levels. Thus, therapeutic intervention aimed at raising HDL-C, within the context of reducing global cardiovascular risk, would benefit such patients, a viewpoint increasingly adopted by international treatment guidelines. Therapeutic options for patients with low HDL-C include treatment with statins, fibrates and nicotinic acid, either as monotherapy or in combination. Of these options, nicotinic acid is not only the most potent agent for raising HDL-C but is also effective in reducing key atherogenic lipid components including triglyceride-rich lipoproteins (mainly very low-density lipoproteins [VLDL] and VLDL remnants), LDL-C, and lipoprotein(a). The principal features of the atherogenic lipid profile in type 2 diabetes and the metabolic syndrome make them logical targets for nicotinic acid therapy, either alone or in combination with a statin. The lack of comprehensive European data on the prevalence of low HDL-C levels highlights a critical need for education on the importance of raising HDL-C in CHD prevention and treatment. The development of a reliable and accurate assay for HDL-C, as well as clarification of criteria for low and optimal levels of HDL-C in both men and women, constitute critical factors in the reliable identification and treatment of patients at elevated risk of CHD due to low HDL-C. Based on the available evidence, the European Consensus Panel recommends that the minimum target for HDL-C should be 40 mg/dL (1.03 mmol/L) in patients with CHD or with a high level of risk for CHD, including patients at high global risk with type 2 diabetes or the metabolic syndrome.