Cholesterol Testing and the Lipid Panel
Understanding Your Cholesterol Test Results
So you've gone hungry overnight, endured a small bloodletting, and dutifully returned to receive your lipid panel test results. Now, what do the numbers in your lipid panel mean?
For total cholesterol:
- 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or less is considered normal.
- 201 to 240 mg/dL is borderline.
- Greater than 240 mg/dL is considered high.
For HDL ("good cholesterol"), more is better:
- HDL 60 mg/dL or higher is good -- it protects against heart disease.
- HDL between 40 and 59 mg/dL are acceptable.
- Less than 40 mg/dL HDL is low, increasing the risk of heart disease.
For LDL ("bad cholesterol"), lower is better:
- An LDL of less than 100 mg/dL is optimal.
- An LDL of 100 to 129 mg/dL is near-optimal.
- LDL between 130 and 159 mg/dL is borderline high.
- LDL cholesterol between 160 and 189 mg/dL is high.
- An LDL of 190 mg/dL or more is considered very high.
Your personal 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. Your cardiologist might recommend an even lower LDL (less than 70 mg/dL) for patients at very high risk of heart disease.
- For people at moderate-to-high risk, LDL less than 130 mg/dL is the goal.
- People at low-to-moderate risk have a goal LDL of less than 160 mg/dL.
Your doctor can help you determine your overall heart disease risk profile, and your personal LDL goal.
High triglycerides (150 mg/dL or greater) also increase the risk for heart disease somewhat.
What to Do About Abnormal Cholesterol Test Results
If your lipid panel test results aren't what you hoped for, take action.
Everyone with an abnormal lipid panel blood test should make lifestyle changes to reduce heart disease risk, including:
Diet. A diet low in saturated fat (7% of total calories or less) and cholesterol (200 mg or less daily) can lower LDL cholesterol. Adding fiber and plant sterols (found in special margarines and other foods) helps, as well. A cholesterol-lowering diet can reduce bad cholesterol by up to 30%.
Exercise. Regular aerobic exercise can both lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and increase good cholesterol (HDL).
Medication. If diet and exercise don't lower cholesterol levels to goal, drug treatment may be needed.