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Understanding Cholesterol Numbers

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.

Triglycerides

Triglycerides are the form in which most fat exists in food and the body. A high triglyceride level has been linked to higher risk of coronary artery disease. Here's the breakdown.

TriglyceridesTriglyceride Category
Less than 150Normal
150 - 199Mildly High
200 - 499High
500 or higherVery high

Total Cholesterol

Your total blood cholesterol is a measure of LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and other lipid components. Your doctor will use your total cholesterol number when determining your risk for heart disease and how best to manage it.  

 

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on May 28, 2014
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Answer:
Desirable
0-199
Borderline
200-239
High
240+

Your level is currently

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal.

Congratulations! Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is borderline high. If your LDL goes higher, your total cholesterol level could become Borderline High. Consider reducing the amount of foods you eat with saturated fats and increasing physical activity. If you get more exercise, your level of "good" HDL cholesterol may increase, which could also help to keep your levels of LDL and total cholesterol in check.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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