The Basics of Cholesterol
How Much Cholesterol Is Too Much?
Everyone over the age of 20 should get their cholesterol levels measured at least once every five years.
When being tested, your doctor may recommend a non-fasting cholesterol test or a fasting cholesterol test. A non-fasting cholesterol test will show total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. A fasting cholesterol test, called a lipid profile or a lipoprotein analysis, will measure your LDL, HDL, and total cholesterol. It will also measure triglycerides.
Your doctor may start with a non-fasting cholesterol test and then recommend a lipid profile, based on the results.
Doctors recommend that total cholesterol stay below 200. Here is the breakdown:
|Less than 200||Desirable|
|200 - 239||Borderline High|
|240 and above||High|
Your LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels are important as well.
How Can I Lower My Cholesterol and Risk of Heart Disease?
A few simple changes can help lower cholesterol and risk for heart disease:
- Eat low-cholesterol foods. The American Heart Association recommends that you limit your average daily cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams. If you have heart disease, limit daily intake to less than 200 milligrams. People can significantly lower their dietary cholesterol intake by keeping their dietary intake of saturated fats low and by avoiding foods that are high in saturated fat and that contain substantial amounts of dietary cholesterol.
- Quit smoking. Smoking lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. This trend can be reversed if you quit smoking.
- Exercise. Exercise increases HDL cholesterol in some people. Even moderate-intensity activities, if done daily, can help control weight, diabetes, and high blood pressure -- all risk factors for heart disease.
- Take medication as prescribed by your doctor. Sometimes making changes to your diet and increasing exercise is not enough to bring cholesterol down. You may also need to take a cholesterol-lowering drug.
How Is High Cholesterol Treated?
The main goal in lowering cholesterol is to lower LDL and raise your HDL. There are two key ways to lower cholesterol: eat a heart-healthy diet and take cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Doctors determine your "goals" for lowering LDL based on the number of risk factors you have for heart disease.
- If you have 0-1 risk factor for heart disease, you are at low-to-moderate risk. Lifestyle changes are recommended to keep the cholesterol in check.
- If you have 2 or more risk factors, you are at moderate risk or next-highest risk, depending on what heart disease risk factors you have. Sometimes your doctor will try lifestyle changes alone, but most of these people require cholesterol-lowering drugs.
- If you have known heart disease, diabetes, or multiple risk factors, you are at high, or very high, risk. These people may require a combination of cholesterol-lowering drugs and lifestyle changes to control their cholesterol levels.