Your Cholesterol Test Cheat Sheet

You’ve fasted somewhere between 9 to 12 hours and had your blood drawn to check your cholesterol levels. And now the result, formally known as the lipid profile, is in. Except, it reads like a trigonometry exam, all acronyms and numbers. Here’s what you need to know:


Total cholesterol


Just as it sounds, this level is a measure of just how much cholesterol is circulating through your body. The goal is to come in at 200 milligrams per deciliter, says Lora Sporny, R.D., adjunct assistant and associate professor of nutrition and education at Columbia University's Teachers College. Anything over 200mg/dl increases risk of heart disease, and most doctors will "intervene" at this level in order to reduce risk.




HDL refers to high-density lipoprotein, more commonly known as “good” cholesterol. It transports bad cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver, so naturally, you’ll want more of it in your system. Hormones in women stimulate HDL production, so a little bit more is expected to be in their bloodstream. Ideally, women should have at least 45 mg/dl; men need at least 40, says Ajit Raisinghani, M.D., director of the cardiology clinics at the University of California—San Diego Medical Center. The lower the HDL, the higher the risk of heart disease. Sixty mg/dl or more is beneficial, offering protection against heart ailments.




LDL, aka low-density lipoprotein, is what’s often described as “bad” cholesterol, the kind that is associated with thickening of blood vessels and arteries. Ideally, your LDL should be less than 100, particularly if you are at “high risk” for heart disease, meaning you have 2 or more risk factors. Should this type of elevation occur your healthcare professional should most likely intervene. The target LDL for people with “moderate risk” is < 130. For people with only 1 risk factor or less, between 100 and 129 is considered mildly elevated; 130 to 159 is borderline high; and above 160 is unequivocally high.




Triglycerides are fat particles that are in your bloodstream. They are also a critical component of all cell membranes and are the primary component of abdominal fat. Too much of it, though, (along with cholesterol) can also harden the arteries, which then makes you more vulnerable for heart attacks and strokes. High triglyceride levels mixed with low HDL make a troubling combination, increasing your likelihood of developing high blood pressure, too, says Sporny. The ideal, or normal, range is 150 mg/dl or below. That said there are risk grades including 150 to 199 which is borderline high; 200 to 499 which is high; and 500 and above which is very high. Your doctor will make recommendations for diet and exercise and/or specific medications to take based on these numbers, as well as other risk factors for heart disease, such as your age, family history, your blood pressure or whether or you have diabetes. Even if you have good cholesterol levels, it is a good idea to eat well and exercise to ensure they stay that way.

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