LDL Cholesterol: The Bad Cholesterol
What LDL Cholesterol Test Results Mean continued...
Although lower is better, your own LDL goal depends on your risk for heart disease:
- For people at high risk of heart disease, or with known heart disease, LDL less than 100 mg/dL is advised.
- For people with diabetes and coronary artery disease together, an LDL less than 70 mg/dL is advised.
- For people at moderate-to-high risk of heart disease, LDL less than 130 mg/dL is the goal.
- People at low-to-moderate risk should have a LDL goal of less than 160 mg/dL.
Your doctor can help you identify your risk for heart disease and your LDL goal. You can get started using risk tables online from the National Institutes of Health.
What You Can Do to Lower LDL Cholesterol
If you've been looking for a push to make changes to your lifestyle, a high LDL level should be your call to action. Everyone who's above their LDL goal should start a diet and exercise plan.
An LDL cholesterol-lowering diet is low in saturated fat (less than 7% of total calories a day) and dietary cholesterol (less than 200 mg a day). Adding fiber and plant sterols (like cholesterol-lowering margarine) can further lower LDL levels. Sticking closely with a cholesterol-lowering diet can lower LDL levels by up to 30%.
Regular aerobic exercise lowers LDL cholesterol even further, and increases HDL -- or "good" -- cholesterol too.
If diet and exercise don't lower LDL levels enough, drug treatment may be needed. A variety of medications can lower LDL cholesterol and include:
- Statins, the most effective and commonly used cholesterol drugs
- Bile acid sequestrants
Doctors don't recommend treating everyone who have an abnormal cholesterol test. For people already at low risk for heart disease, the inconvenience, expense, and potential side effects of taking medicine for decades might outweigh its benefits.
Also, remember that many factors besides cholesterol affect your risk of heart disease. Smoking, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and exercise are also important contributors. Lowering LDL cholesterol is good, but it’s important to reduce these other risk factors as well.