Your body needs some cholesterol to work well. But it only needs a limited amount to meet its needs. Unhealthy levels of any of these fats in your blood can put you at risk for heart disease. Ask your doctor if you should have your cholesterol levels checked.
Total cholesterol is a measure of all the fats (lipids) in your blood:
||(“bad cholesterol”) may cause a buildup in your arteries and increase your chance of heart disease
||(“good cholesterol”) may help clean plaque from the blood
||are fats carried in the blood from the food we eat, and are also made in the liver
An elevated level of cholesterol in the blood is one of the main causes of coronary heart disease, so it is important to have your cholesterol checked at regular intervals. How often you should have your cholesterol levels checked depends on your specific risk factors for heart disease, so ask your doctor what your risk factors are and how often you should be tested.
The lipids in your blood—LDL, triglycerides, and HDL—make up your total cholesterol number. The recommended cholesterol test that looks at the main parts of cholesterol is called a lipoprotein (or lipid) profile. It's taken using a small sample of blood from the finger or arm following a 9- to 12-hour period without food, liquid, or oral medications. Cholesterol levels are measured as milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood, or mg/dL.
Once you know your triglyceride, LDL, and HDL numbers, you can work with your doctor to get them to the healthy range.
Your LDL goal depends on how many risk factors* you have.
- Below 160 mg/dL if you have 1 or no risk factors
- Below 130 mg/dL if you have 2 or more risk factors
- Below 100 mg/dL if you have heart disease or diabetes
*Risk factors for heart disease include age, family history, high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, and low HDL.
You want your triglycerides to be lower:
- A normal triglyceride level is less than 150 mg/dL
- Borderline high is between 150 and 199 mg/dL
- High is between 200 and 499 mg/dL
- Very high is 500 mg/dL and higher
You want your HDL to be higher:
- High HDL is 60 mg/dL or higher
- Low HDL is less than 40 mg/dL
Know your numbers and ask your doctor to help you set goals based on your specific medical history and risk factors.
This guide can help you keep track of your cholesterol.
Download and print a full set of health risk charts and bring them with you to all your check-ups to help you monitor your health risks.
1. WebMD Web site. High cholesterol risk factors. http://www.webmd.com/cholesterolmanagement/guide/high-cholesterol-risk-factors. Accessed February 8, 2012.
2. American Heart Association. What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/AboutCholesterol/What-Your-Cholesterol-Levels-Mean_UCM_305562_Article.jsp. Last update June 13, 2011. Accessed June 20, 2011.
3. National Institutes of Health, US Department of Health and Human Services. Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). Final Report. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health; 2002. NIH Publication 02-5215.
4. Data on file. Yankelovich men’s “Drive for Five” health campaign report survey. Conducted June 20-28, 2012.