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Understanding Cholesterol Levels and Numbers

Cholesterol is a type of lipid (fat) naturally produced by the liver and found in all body cells. It can also be found in some meals, like meat and dairy. It is essential for the body’s proper functioning because it plays a role in the production of hormones, vitamin D, and other substances that help the body digest food. However, high cholesterol levels in the blood can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other health problems. Therefore, it is important to understand how to check your cholesterol level and see if it is affecting your body. In this blog post, we will discuss the different cholesterol levels and numbers and how to interpret them for maintaining good health.

What kind of examination determines cholesterol?

Your doctor performs a blood test known as a lipid profile to determine your cholesterol levels. They will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm and transmit it to a lab for testing. Make sure to adhere to the exam preparation guidelines provided by your provider. You’ll probably need to fast for 12 hours first, which calls for abstaining from all food and liquids besides water. 

How frequently you should have your cholesterol tested will be specified by your doctor, depending on your age and family history. High cholesterol has no visible signs, and you can have elevated cholesterol and go years without even realizing it, which is why the best method to determine your cholesterol level is through a routine blood cholesterol test. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults have a cholesterol screening test every four to six years, starting at age 20. You might require cholesterol tests more frequently if a family member has high cholesterol or a history of heart attack or stroke.

How to interpret cholesterol levels and numbers? 

Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood. The screening test measures the levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides (another type of fat in the blood).

Total Cholesterol

Total cholesterol is the sum of LDL, HDL, and other types of cholesterol in the blood. The AHA recommends that total cholesterol levels should be less than 200 mg/dL. Levels between 200-239 mg/dL are borderline high, and levels 240 mg/dL or higher are considered high.

LDL (low-density lipoprotein) Cholesterol

LDL cholesterol is known as “bad” cholesterol because it can accumulate in the walls of arteries and form plaque, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. The AHA recommends that LDL cholesterol levels should be less than 100 mg/dL for most people. However, if you have other risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes or a history of heart disease, your doctor may recommend a lower LDL cholesterol goal. Levels between 100-129 mg/dL are near-optimal, levels between 130-159 mg/dL are borderline high, levels between 160-189 mg/dL are high, and levels 190 mg/dL or higher are very high.

HDL (high-density lipoprotein) Cholesterol

HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol because it helps to remove LDL from the blood and carry it back to the liver for processing and removal. The AHA recommends that HDL cholesterol levels should be 60 mg/dL or higher for both men and women. Levels between 40-59 mg/dL are considered acceptable, and levels less than 40 mg/dL are considered a major risk factor for heart disease.


Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides can increase the risk of heart disease. The AHA recommends that triglyceride levels should be less than 150 mg/dL. Levels between 150-199 mg/dL are borderline high, levels between 200-499 mg/dL are high, and levels 500 mg/dL or higher are very high.

What do high cholesterol levels mean?

You should know that the numbers alone cannot forecast your risk of developing heart problems or tell you what steps to take to reduce that risk. They only make up a small portion of a larger equation that also takes into account factors like your age, blood pressure, smoking history, and use of blood pressure medications. For that reason, the doctor will also consider other facets of your health to better understand your risks. This data will be used by your doctor to estimate your 10-year chance for serious heart issues.

Your chance of heart disease and stroke increases as your risk factors increase. Lowering your cholesterol is one of the measures you can take to reduce your risk, along with other risk factors you may have. Discuss the significance of your cholesterol levels in the context of your general health with your healthcare practitioner. You and your doctor will work together to create a plan to improve your statistics so that they are in a healthier range.

How to lower your cholesterol levels?

If your cholesterol levels are higher than the recommended guidelines, your doctor may recommend several lifestyle changes, such as:

1. Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese can increase LDL and decrease HDL cholesterol levels.

2. Exercising regularly: Regular exercise can help to increase HDL cholesterol levels and lower LDL cholesterol levels.

3. Eating a healthy diet: A diet that is low in saturated and trans fats and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein can help to lower LDL cholesterol levels.

4. Quitting smoking: Smoking can decrease HDL cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease.

5. Taking medication: If lifestyle changes are not enough to lower your cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication to help lower them.

Excessively high cholesterol raises a red flag as it is a significant risk factor for cardiac disease. However, if you discover it early, you have time to make lifestyle adjustments and lower your cholesterol to a healthy level. 

If you believe you are at risk of having high cholesterol levels, schedule an appointment to talk to one of our doctors about your cholesterol management options.