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Cholesterol & Triglycerides Health Center

Cholesterol a Mystery to Most

Poll: We Think We Know Our Cholesterol -- but We Don't
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 6, 2007 -- Nearly all Americans claim to know how to avoid heart attacks, but most of us don't know our cholesterol or blood-fat numbers, a Harris poll demonstrates.

The poll was commissioned by Merck & Co. Inc., which makes one of the cholesterol-lowering statin drugs. The telephone survey of 1,005 U.S. adults took place in September 2007.

Pollsters asked people whether they thought they were fairly informed about how to avoid a heart attack. Nearly everyone -- 95% -- said they did.

But:

  • 77% did not know the upper limit of a healthy cholesterol level.
  • A third said they had "no idea" what the terms "LDL" or "HDL" mean.
  • Half said they knew exactly what "total cholesterol" means.
  • Fewer than half knew their LDL and HDL numbers.
  • Only 28% knew their triglyceride numbers.

Of course, you as a WebMD reader already know these things. But just in case you're emailing this story to your thinks-he-knows-but-doesn't-know brother-in-law, here are the facts:

  • You have two basic kinds of cholesterol: "bad" low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and "good" high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. There's also very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), which is also bad.
  • Triglycerides are lipids detected in the blood -- think of them as blood fats. High triglyceride levels are bad.
  • Total cholesterol is a measure of all the cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood. It's measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). It's desirable to have a total cholesterol level under 200; at 240 and over, you are at high risk of heart disease.
  • Your LDL level should be less than 100, but a level of 100-129 ranges from near optimal to above optimal. LDL levels of 130-159 are borderline high, and those at 160 or above are too high.
  • The higher your HDL level, the better. HDL of less than 40 for men and less than 50 for women puts you at higher risk of heart disease.
  • Triglyceride levels of less than 150 are normal. Levels of 200 or higher are too high.

Merck reported the poll results at sponsored events held in conjunction with the American Heart Association's Annual Scientific Session in Orlando, Fla.

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Is Your Cholesterol Level Heart Healthy?
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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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