You went in for your annual doctor’s appointment, you fasted, and the nurse drew some blood. Then your doctor gives you your results: four numbers, a couple acronyms, and none of it makes much sense. HDL? LDL? Triglycerides? Or maybe your doctor just tells you that your cholesterol is high. What does it all mean?
The first thing to understand is that, while your cholesterol is measured as a single number, it is actually made up of three measures: HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, is the “good” cholesterol; LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is the “bad” cholesterol. Triglycerides are another type of lipids, and they are also associated with higher risk for heart disease.
Despite being cholesterol, which is normally associated with negative heart issues, high-density lipoproteins are believed to be associated with cardiovascular health. HDL carries other bad lipids to the liver, and an HDL level above 35 or 40 mg/dL is considered ok. An HDL level above 60 is considered very healthy, as higher levels help protect the heart. An HDL level below 35 could require a change in diet or lifestyle.
Unlike HDL, higher low-density lipoproteins are bad. When LDL is high, it means there is a substantial amount of cholesterol circulating in the bloodstream; this can mean a much higher risk of heart disease. LDL is measured on a scale from 1 – 190+ mg/dL. An LDL level below 100 is optimal, though levels of 100-129 mg/dL are ok. Levels between 130 – 159 are considered borderline high, while anything between 160 – 189 is high. If your LDL cholesterol comes back above 190 mg/dL, serious measures will need to be taken in order to reduce it.
Triglycerides are the second type of “bad” cholesterol measured in a lipid panel. The majority of fat we consume comes as triglycerides, and high triglyceride levels can indicate far too much fat in the bloodstream. High levels of triglycerides are also indicators of potential for heart disease, and anything above 500 mg/dL is considered dangerously high. 200 – 499 mg/dL is considered high, 150 – 199 mg/dL is considered borderline high, and anything below 150 mg/dL is considered healthy.
Your doctor will likely give you your cholesterol results in one number, but be sure to ask for the breakdown. If you have a very high level of HDL combined with mid-level LDL and triglycerides, you are far better off than low HDL and high LDL and triglycerides. Understanding the breakdown of your cholesterol levels is key to understanding how and if to treat it. Of course, if you have any specific questions about your results, contact your physician.
Source: Moll, Jennifer. “Types of Cholesterol.” http://cholesterol.about.com/cs/cholesteroltypes/a/lipotypes.htm. Accessed 24 May 2010.