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  • Understanding Your Cholesterol Report
  • Avoid a Cholesterol Drug Interaction
  • Are You at Risk for Heart Disease?

Nutrition & Exercise

  • A Guide to Heart-Healthy Grains
  • 12 Weeks to a Healthier You
  • Factor in Fitness to Fight High Cholesterol
  • How to Find Your Target Heart Rate During Exercise

Staying Healthy

  • The Deadly Combo: High Blood Pressure & High Cholesterol
  • Beyond Your Heart: The Other Risks of High Cholesterol

For Women Only

  • High Cholesterol: The Gender Gap
  • Cholesterol and Your Sex Life

Understanding Your Cholesterol Report

HDL, LDL, triglycerides—what does it all mean?

By: Laura Flynn McCarthy

Reviewed By: Kerry Prewitt, M.D., FACC

reportCholesterol is a bit like sunlight — too much of it can cause problems, but it’s hard to survive without it. A small amount of cholesterol (made by your liver and transported through your bloodstream) is used by your body to create cell tissues and certain hormones, among other functions. This is normal and healthy. But too much blood cholesterol, especially certain kinds, can build up in your arteries, making them more rigid (a condition called atherosclerosis) and eventually blocking blood flow entirely. A blocked artery to the heart can lead to a heart attack. A blocked artery to the brain can lead to a stroke. Both conditions could be fatal.

Whether these blockages occur depends in part on how the cholesterol is transported through your blood — in lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL, “bad” cholesterol) are like local commuter trains that make frequent stops, dropping off cholesterol “passengers” along the walls of your arteries. High-density lipoproteins (HDL, “good” cholesterol) are like one-stop express trains that sweep the cholesterol directly to your liver where it can be processed for removal from your body.

High LDL and low HDL levels put you at a greater risk for heart disease and stroke. That’s why you need to pay attention to each contributing factor to your cholesterol report, not just your total cholesterol reading. Cholesterol is measured in milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood or mg/dL.

Total Cholesterol

A measure of the total cholesterol in your blood carried by LDL and HDL levels and other lipoproteins


Less than 200 mg/dL


200 to 239 mg/dL


240 mg/dL and above

HDL Cholesterol

The “good” cholesterol

At risk

Less than 40 mg/dL


60 mg/dL or greater

LDL Cholesterol

The “bad” cholesterol


Less than 100 mg/dL

Near optimal

100 to 129 mg/dL


130 to 159 mg/dL


160 to 189 mg/dL

Very High

190 mg/dL and above




Less than 150 mg/dL


150 to 199 mg/dL


200 to 499 mg/dL

Very High

500 mg/dL or higher

How do cholesterol levels get too high? What causes the “bad” cholesterol levels to be too high and “good” HDL levels to be too low? It’s a complex soup of family history and genetics, weight, dietary habits, exercise levels and even how you handle stress.

You can’t get new parents, but you can make small, effective changes in the way you eat and move that can help bring high cholesterol levels under control. Diet is one of the biggest contributors to unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, especially saturated fats (found primarily in animal products such as meat, cheese and milk) and trans fats (found in many processed foods). Some foods, especially eggs, actually contain cholesterol, which can also raise blood cholesterol, but not as significantly as saturated fat does. Other foods and drinks may actually lower “bad” or raise “good” cholesterol. Eating too many carbohydrates can elevate triglyceride levels, which is also associated with lower levels of good cholesterol (HDL). In addition, exercise, including weight training, can improve your cholesterol levels.

If those lifestyle changes don’t bring your levels all down to normal, your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications. But lifestyle changes are always at the core of any program to keep your heart healthy.





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