Understanding Your Cholesterol Report
A fasting lipid profile is a blood test that measures the amount of cholesterol and fats called triglycerides in the blood. These measurements give the doctor a quick snapshot of what's going on in your arteries. Cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood can clog arteries, making you more likely to develop heart disease. Thus, these tests can help predict your risk of heart disease and allow you to make early lifestyle changes that lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
How to Read Your Lipid Panel
A report typically contains the following items, in this order:
- Total cholesterol: An estimate of all the cholesterol in the blood (good HDL plus bad LDL, for example). Thus, a higher total cholesterol may be due to high levels of HDL, which is good, or high levels of LDL, which is bad. So knowing the breakdown is important.
- Triglycerides: A type of blood fat.
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL): Good cholesterol that helps protect against heart disease.
- Low-density lipoprotein (LDL): Bad cholesterol and a major contributor to clogged arteries.
Some reports also include:
- Total cholesterol to HDL ratio: The amount of total cholesterol divided by HDL. This number is useful in helping doctors predict the risk of developing atherosclerosis (plaque build-up inside the arteries).
- Very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL): Another type of bad cholesterol that builds up inside the arteries.
Total Blood (Serum) Cholesterol
In general, doctors recommend that you try to keep this number under 200 mg/dL. Levels over 200 mg/dL -- depending on the breakdown of LDL versus HDL -- may mean you are at higher risk for heart disease.
- Desirable: Less than 200 mg/dL
- Borderline high: 200-239 mg/dL
- High: Over 240 mg/dL
Having a total cholesterol level over 240 mg/dL approximately doubles the risk of heart disease.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL)
Low-density lipoprotein is bad cholesterol. Think of the "L" in LDL as "lousy." High LDL levels increase the risk of heart disease.
Your actual LDL goal depends on whether or not you have existing risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. But in general, LDL results are as follows:
- Optimal: Less than 100 mg/dL
- Near optimal: 100-129 mg/dL
- Borderline high: 130-159 mg/dL
- High: 160-189 mg/dL
If you have a very high risk for heart disease or have existing heart disease, your doctor may recommend that you strive for an LDL level of 70 or lower. Be sure to talk with your doctor about what your cholesterol numbers mean.
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is good cholesterol. Think of the "H" in HDL as "healthy" to remember this cholesterol type as the good kind.
HDL helps carry bad cholesterol out of the bloodstream and arteries. It plays a very important role in preventing clogged arteries. So, the higher the HDL number, the better.
- HDL levels of 60 mg/dL or higher can help protect you against heart disease.
- HDL levels below 40 mg/dL are considered to be a major risk factor for heart disease.