What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean

Updated:Nov 12,2013

Couple having their cholesterol levels explained by a doctorHow’s your cholesterol? Time to get it checked!

Keeping your cholesterol levels healthy is a great way to keep your heart healthy – and lower your chances of getting heart disease or having a stroke. Cholesterol can be tricky to understand, though, because not all is bad for you. Some is actually good for you. The most important thing you can do as a first step is to know your cholesterol numbers by getting your cholesterol tested. Here are some easy ways for you to understand what the testing involves, how it can help you and ways to improve your health by improving your cholesterol.

Cholesterol score illustrationThe American Heart Association endorses the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) guidelines for detection of high cholesterol: All adults age 20 or older should have a fasting lipoprotein profile — which measures total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides — once every five years.  These guidelines were recently updated.

This test is done after a nine- to 12-hour fast without food, liquids or pills. It gives information about total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides. View an animation of cholesterol score.

Your test report will show your cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). To determine how your cholesterol levels affect your risk of heart disease, your doctor will also take into account other risk factors such as age, family history, smoking and high blood pressure.

A complete fasting lipoprotein profile will show the following four results.

Your Cholesterol Levels

Total Cholesterol LevelCategory
Less than 200 mg/dLDesirable level that puts you at lower risk for coronary heart disease. A cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL or higher raises your risk.
200 to 239 mg/dLBorderline high
240 mg/dL and aboveHigh blood cholesterol. A person with this level has more than twice the risk of coronary heart disease as someone whose cholesterol is below 200 mg/dL.
*Your total cholesterol score is calculated by the following: HDL + LDL + 20% of your triglyceride level.


Learn How to Get Your Cholesterol Tested.

 

AHA Recommendation

We recommend using the absolute numbers for total blood cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels. They're more useful to physicians than the cholesterol ratio in determining the appropriate treatment for patients.

Some physicians and cholesterol technicians use the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol in place of the total blood cholesterol. The ratio is obtained by dividing the HDL cholesterol level into the total cholesterol. For example, if a person has a total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL and an HDL cholesterol level of 50 mg/dL, the ratio would be 4:1. The goal is to keep the ratio below 5:1; the optimum ratio is 3.5:1.
 

 



This content was last reviewed on 12/10/2012.




Cholesterol

Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter
 

Email:
 
 
Choose at least one
 
 

Watch, Learn and Live

Interactive Cardiovascular Library Thumbnail image

Our Interactive Cardiovascular Library has detailed animations and illustrations to help you learn about conditions, treatments and procedures related to heart disease and stroke.

Start exploring today!

Donation Widgwt Image