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Cholesterol Levels – Size up your numbers

Cholesterol Levels

What do your numbers really mean?

High blood cholesterol is diagnosed by checking levels of cholesterol in your blood. It is best to have a blood test called a lipoprotein profile to measure your cholesterol levels. You will need to not eat or drink anything (fast) for 9 to 12 hours before taking the test.

Too much cholesterol in the blood, or high blood cholesterol, can be serious. People with high blood cholesterol have a greater chance of getting heart disease. High blood cholesterol on its own does not cause symptoms; so many people are unaware that their cholesterol level is too high.

The lipoprotein profile will give information about your:

  • Total cholesterol
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) bad cholesterol: the main source of cholesterol buildup and blockage in the arteries
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) good cholesterol: the good cholesterol that helps keep cholesterol from building up in arteries
  • Triglycerides: another form of fat in your blood

Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. See how your cholesterol numbers compare to the tables below.

Total Cholesterol Levels: your total cholesterol count including HDL and LDL cholesterol levels.Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in all cells of the body. Your body needs some cholesterol to work the right way. Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs.

Below 180 mg/dL

Excellent – this should be your goal

180 – 200 mg/dL


200 – 239 mg/dL

Borderline high

240 mg/dL and above

Very High

HDL “Good” Cholesterol NumbersHDL carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. The liver removes the cholesterol from your body. The higher your HDL cholesterol level, the lower your chance of getting heart disease.

60 mg/dL and above

Excellent – this should be your goal

40 – 59 mg/dL

Lower Risk for Heart Disease

Below 40 mg/dL

High Risk for Heart Disease

LDL “Bad” Cholesterol LevelsHigh LDL cholesterol leads to a buildup of cholesterol in arteries. The higher the LDL level in your blood, the greater chance you have of getting heart disease.

Below 100 mg/dL


100 – 129 mg/dL

Near Optimal/Desirable

130 – 159 mg/dL

Borderline high

160 – 189 mg/dL


190 mg/dL and above

Very high

Triglycerides LevelsTriglycerides are a form of fat carried through the bloodstream. Most of your body’s fat is in the form of triglycerides stored in fat tissue. A small portion of triglycerides is found in the bloodstream. High blood triglyceride levels alone do not necessarily cause atherosclerosis (the buildup of cholesterol and fat in the walls of arteries). But some lipoproteins that are rich in triglycerides also contain cholesterol, which causes atherosclerosis in some people with high triglycerides, and high triglycerides are often accompanied by other factors (such as low HDL or a tendency toward diabetes) that raise heart disease risk. So high triglycerides may be a sign of a lipoprotein problem that contributes to heart disease.

Below 150 mg/dL


150-199 mg/dL

Borderline High

200 – 399 mg/dL


400 mg/dL and above

Very High

Triglycerides are measured along with cholesterol as part of a blood test. Too much of this type of fat can contribute to the hardening and narrowing of your arteries. This puts you at risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

Diseases such as diabetes, obesity, kidney failure or alcoholism can cause high triglycerides. High triglycerides often occur along with high levels of cholesterol.

Things that can increase triglyceride levels include:

  • Overweight
  • Physical inactivity
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Very high carbohydrate diet
  • Certain diseases and drugs
  • Genetic disorders

If your triglyceride level is high, you can lower it by

  • Getting medical treatment for the problem causing the high triglycerides
  • Following a healthy diet low in sugars and carbohydrates
  • Exercising regularly
  • Taking cholesterol-lowering medicines
Content Created/Medically Reviewed by our Expert Doctors
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