Cholesterol Testing and the Lipid Panel
Understanding Your Cholesterol Test Results continued...
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 (200 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.
A variety of medications or combination treatments can lower cholesterol including:
- Statins, the most effective and commonly used cholesterol drugs
- Bile acid sequestrants
Remember that multiple factors besides cholesterol contribute to heart disease. Diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, exercise, and genetics are all important, as well.
Because so many factors contribute to heart disease, cholesterol isn't destiny. People with normal cholesterol can have heart disease; people with high cholesterol can have healthy hearts. Overall, though, more people who have high cholesterol will develop heart disease, compared to people with normal cholesterol tests.
Experts recommend follow-up cholesterol testing every five years for most people. People with abnormal lipid panels, or who have other risk factors, may need more frequent cholesterol exams. By working to improve the results on your next cholesterol test -- or to keep your numbers looking good -- you'll reduce your risk for heart disease.