Understanding Your Cholesterol Numbers

While cholesterol level monitoring is especially important for people with familial hypercholesterolemia, or FH, everyone should know what state their cholesterol is in. Cholesterol levels tell you a lot about the health of your cardiovascular system, since excess cholesterol can lead to the kind of plaque buildup that may eventually trigger a major cardiac event. However, if you get your cholesterol tested, it’s important to understand exactly what you’re looking at, because not all cholesterol is bad for you. Some cholesterol is actually a sign of positive health.

Getting Your Cholesterol Levels Tested

First, you need to know what testing for cholesterol level entails. The American Heart Association suggests that all adults age 20 or older should have what’s called a fasting lipoprotein profile every five years. This is a blood test that is done after a 9-12 hour fast without any food, liquids, or pills, producing four different measurements: total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (the bad kind), HDL cholesterol (the good kind), and triglycerides. The test results will be reported as milligrams per deciliter of blood.

Understanding Your Cholesterol Test Results

While your doctor can help you take into account the risk factors that may shift these general guidelines slightly for your individual case, this is the basic rubric for what your cholesterol test results mean.

  • Total Cholesterol:  This score is calculated by adding your HDL-C and LDL-C levels together, plus 20% of your triglyceride level. Ideally, your total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL. If your total cholesterol level is in the range of 200-239 mg/dL, you have borderline high cholesterol. 240 mg/dL is considered high blood cholesterol and gives you twice the risk of heart disease as someone with normal cholesterol.

  • LDL-C levels: LDL-C levels are the best gauge of risk of heart attack and stroke. Less than 100 mg/dL is optimal, while 100-129 mg/dL is near optimal. 130-150 mg/dL is borderline high, 160-189 mg/dL is high, and 190 mg/dL or above is extremely high.Atrial_septal_defect-null.png

  • HDL-C levels: HDL-C is the type of cholesterol for which you want to see a high score. If your HDL levels are below 40 mg/dL for men or 50 mg/dL for women, this is a major risk factor for heart disease. 60 mg/dL or above is considered protective against heart disease.

  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. Less than 100 mg/dL is optimal, less than 150 mg/dL is normal, 150-199 mg/dL is borderline high, 200-299 mg/dL is high, and 500 mg/dL or more is very high.

Cholesterol Numbers in Individuals with FH

LDL-C levels are the most important potential sign of FH that can be derived from a cholesterol test. Adults with LDL-C levels of 190 mg/dL or above and children with LDL scores of 160 mg/dL or above should consider further testing for FH, especially if they have a family history of heart disease, stroke or high cholesterol. For more information about FH or to find out how you can get involved, contact the Family Heart Foundation today.

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