Understanding Your Cholesterol Report
How to Read Your Lipid Panel continued...
Certain medications, including steroids, blood pressure drugs known as beta blockers, and some ‘water pills’ can interfere with HDL levels. Make sure your doctor always knows about all the medications you are taking.
Triglycerides are a type of blood fat that have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. If you have high triglycerides, your total cholesterol and LDL levels may be high, as well.
- Normal: less than 150 mg/dL
- Borderline-High: 150–199 mg/dL
- High: 200–499 mg/dL
- Very High: 500 mg/dL
Lifestyle plays a large role in your triglyceride level. Smoking, excessive drinking, uncontrolled diabetes, and medications such as estrogen, steroids, and some acne treatments can contribute to high triglyceride levels. However, in some cases, genes or an underlying disease can be the cause.
Total Cholesterol to HDL Ratio
This number reflects the amount of total cholesterol divided by your HDL level. Higher ratios indicate a higher risk of heart attack; lower ratios indicate a lower risk of heart attacks. So if total cholesterol was 200 mg/dL and your HDL level was 50 mg/dL, your ratio would be 4:1.
This number is not always listed on a cholesterol report. Some doctors use this instead of the total cholesterol level. However, the American Heart Association recommends the separate values for total blood cholesterol and HDL cholesterol, stating that they are more useful in determining treatment.
Studies suggest that in men, a total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio of 5 signifies that they're at average risk for heart disease; 3.4, about half the average; and 9.6, about double the average. Because women have higher HDL levels, a ratio of 4.4 means an average risk; 3.3 is about half the average; and 7, about double.
Very Low-Density Lipoprotein (VLDL)
This is a type of bad cholesterol that contains the highest amount of triglycerides. The higher your VLDL level, the more likely you are to have a heart attack or stroke.
The VLDL level is not always included in cholesterol reports. There is no simple or direct way to measure VLDL. Most labs estimate it by dividing the triglyceride level by 5. However, this is not valid if the triglyceride level is over 400.
Normal VLDL levels range from 5 – 40 mg/dL.
What's Your Goal?
Keep in mind this reports offers a general guideline only. What's normal for you may not be OK for someone else. Your doctor will look at all your cholesterol numbers together to develop a specific goal for you.
Your goal depends on your age, family history of heart disease, and whether or not you have other risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and weight problems. Results may even vary depending on the lab a doctor uses. Always ask your doctor to help you interpret test results.
Adults aged 20 and older should have their cholesterol and triglyceride levels checked once every five years. However, your doctor may suggest doing this more often if you have certain risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, or a family history of heart disease.