What Your Cholesterol Levels Mean
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:
- Your total blood (or serum) cholesterol level
- Your HDL (good) cholesterol level
- Your LDL (bad) cholesterol level
- Your triglyceride level
Your Total Blood (or Serum) Cholesterol Level
Less than 200 mg/dL: Desirable
If your LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels are also at desirable levels and you have no other risk factors for heart disease, total blood cholesterol below 200 mg/dL puts you at relatively low risk of coronary heart disease. Even with a low risk, however, it’s still smart to eat a heart-healthy diet, get regular physical activity and avoid tobacco smoke. Have your cholesterol levels checked every five years or as your doctor recommends.
200–239 mg/dL: Borderline-High Risk
If your total cholesterol falls between 200 and 239 mg/dL, your doctor will evaluate your levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides. It's possible to have borderline-high total cholesterol numbers with normal levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol balanced by high HDL (good) cholesterol. Work with your doctor to create a prevention and treatment plan that's right for you. Make lifestyle changes, including eating a heart-healty diet, getting regular physical activity and avoiding tobacco smoke. Depending on your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and your other risk factors, you may also need medication. Ask your doctor how often you should have your cholesterol rechecked.
240 mg/dL and over: High Risk
People who have a total cholesterol level of 240 mg/dL or more typically have twice the risk of coronary heart disease as people whose cholesterol level is desirable (200 mg/dL). If your test didn’t show your LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides, your doctor should order a fasting profile. Work with your doctor to create a prevention and treatment plan that's right for you. Whether or not you need cholesterol-regulating medication, make lifestyle changes, including eating a heart-healty diet, getting regular physical activity and avoiding tobacco smoke.
With HDL (good) cholesterol, higher levels are better. Low HDL cholesterol (less than 40 mg/dL for men, less than 50 mg/dL for women) puts you at higher risk for heart disease. In the average man, HDL cholesterol levels range from 40 to 50 mg/dL. In the average woman, they range from 50 to 60 mg/dL. An HDL cholesterol of 60 mg/dL or higher gives some protection against heart disease.
Smoking, being overweight and being sedentary can all result in lower HDL cholesterol. To raise your HDL level, avoid tobacco smoke, maintain a healthy weight and get at least 30–60 minutes of physical activity more days than not.
People with high blood triglycerides usually also have lower HDL cholesterol and a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. Progesterone, anabolic steroids and male sex hormones (testosterone) also lower HDL cholesterol levels. Female sex hormones raise HDL cholesterol levels.
The lower your LDL cholesterol, the lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. In fact, it's a better gauge of risk than total blood cholesterol. In general, LDL levels fall into these categories:
LDL Cholesterol Levels
Less than 100 mg/dL
100 to 129 mg/dL
Near Optimal/ Above Optimal
130 to 159 mg/dL
160 to 189 mg/dL
190 mg/dL and above
Your other risk factors for heart disease and stroke help determine what your LDL level should be, as well as the appropriate treatment for you. A healthy level for you may not be healthy for your friend or neighbor. Discuss your levels and your treatment options with your doctor to get the plan that works for you.
The Cholesterol Heart Profilers is a great starting point for learning about prevention and treatment options for your specific cholesterol levels. This free, confidential online service creates a personalized, printable report with the key information you need to fully understand your cholesterol levels, health risks and treatment options. You'll get a personalized cardiovascular disease risk profile, along with a summary of treatment options, potential side effects, success rates and a list of relevant medical journal articles and research studies, all summarized in plain English.
Your Triglyceride Level
Triglyceride is a form of fat. People with high triglycerides often have a high total cholesterol level, including high LDL (bad) cholesterol and low HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Your triglyceride level will fall into one of these categories:
: less than 150 mg/dL Normal
- Borderline-High: 150–199 mg/dL
- High: 200–499 mg/dL
- Very High: 500 mg/dL
Many people have high triglyceride levels due to being overweight/obese, physical inactivity, cigarette smoking, excess alcohol consumption and/or a diet very high in carbohydrates (60 percent of more of calories). High triglycerides are a lifestyle-related risk factor; however, underlying diseases or genetic disorders can be the cause.
The main therapy to reduce triglyceride levels is to change your lifestyle. This means control your weight, eat a heart-healthy diet, get regular physical activity, avoid tobacco smoke, limit alcohol to one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men, and limit beverages and foods with added sugars. Visit your healthcare provider to create a plan of action that will incorporate all these lifestyle changes. Sometimes, medication is needed in addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle.
A triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or higher is one of the risk factors of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome increases the risk for heart disease and other disorders, including diabetes.