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Cholesterol levels should be measured at least once every five years in everyone over age 20. The screening test that is usually performed is a blood test called a lipid profile. Experts recommend that men ages 35 and older and women ages 45 and older be more frequently screened for lipid disorders. The lipoprotein profile includes:

  • Total cholesterol
  • LDL (low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also called "bad" cholesterol)
  • HDL (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also called "good" cholesterol)
  • Triglycerides (fats carried in the blood from the food we eat. Excess calories, alcohol, or sugar in the body are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells throughout the body.)

Results of your blood test will come in the forms of numbers. Here is how to interpret your cholesterol numbers. The first thing you need to know is that the numbers by themselves are not enough to predict your risk of heart problems or to determine what you need to do to lower that risk. They are, instead, one part of a larger equation that includes your age, your blood pressure, your smoking status, and your use of blood pressure medicines. Your doctor will use this information to calculate your 10-year risk for serious heart problems. Then the two of you will develop a strategy for reducing that risk.

LDL Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries and increase your chances of getting heart disease. That is why LDL cholesterol is referred to as "bad" cholesterol. The lower your LDL cholesterol number, the lower your risk. 

If your LDL is 190 or more, it is considered very high. Your doctor will most likely recommend  a statin in addition to making healthy lifestyle choices. Statins are medicines that can help lower cholesterol levels.

You may also need to take a statin even though your LDL level is lower than 190. After figuring your 10-year risk, your doctor will recommend a percentage by which you should try to lower your LDL level through diet, exercise, and medication if necessary.

HDL Cholesterol

When it comes to HDL cholesterol -- "good" cholesterol – a higher number means lower risk. This is because HDL cholesterol protects against heart disease by taking the "bad" cholesterol out of your blood and keeping it from building up in your arteries. A statin can slightly increase your HDL, as can exercise.

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WebMD Video Series

Click here to wach video: LDL or HDL: What's the Difference?

Jonathan Sackner Bernstein, MD, talks about the different types of cholesterol and how they affect your health.

Click here to watch video: LDL or HDL: What's the Difference?