Understand Your Cholesterol Test Results
Use this page to understand your cholesterol and triglyceride results and see if they are in the healthy range.
When you have a cholesterol test, ask your healthcare professional to explain the results, so you don’t have any unnecessary worry or confusion.
Its not just your total cholesterol thats important, so your results will include different types of cholesterol. If you are only given your total cholesterol, ask for a break-down of the other numbers its possible to have a healthy total cholesterol number but an unhealthy balance of the different types of cholesterol.
Ask for a print out of your results if you are not able to speak to your GP, nurse or pharmacist.
Cholesterol Levels For Children
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should have total cholesterol readings of under 170 mg/dl. The borderline high range is 170199 mg/dl, and a reading of 200 mg/dl or over is high.
LDL cholesterol levels should be under 110 mg/dl. The borderline high range is 110129 mg/dl, and any reading over 130 mg/dl is high.
How Is High Cholesterol Diagnosed
Lipoprotein panel is a type of blood test that can measure cholesterol levels. Before the test, the patient may need to fast for 9-12 hours. The test gives information about different types of cholesterol:
- Total cholesterol: Shows the total amount of cholesterol in the blood. It includes both low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
- LDL cholesterol: Transports cholesterol particles throughout the body. LDL cholesterol is often called the bad cholesterol because it builds up in the walls of the arteries, making them hard and narrow.
- HDL cholesterol: Picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to your liver.
- Non-HDL: Number is total cholesterol minus HDL. Non-HDL includes LDL and other types of cholesterol such as very lowdensity lipoprotein .
- Triglycerides: Another form of fat in the blood that can increase your risk for heart diseases, especially in women, is triglycerides.
Too much of the bad kind, or not enough of the good kind, increases the risk that cholesterol will slowly build up in the inner walls of the arteries that feed the heart and brain.
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How Do Foods Affect Triglyceride Levels
Eating foods high in simple sugars significantly contributes to high triglyceride levels. Follow these guidelines to limit simple sugars in your diet:
- Substitute beverages like colas, fruit drinks, iced tea, lemonade, Hi-C and Kool-Aid with artificially sweetened beverages labeled sugar-free or diet.
- Limit hard candies, chocolates, candy bars, and gummy bears.
- Avoid adding table sugar and brown sugar to cereal, drinks or foods. Instead, use an artificial or herbal sweetener or nothing at all!
- Choose sugar-free gum or mints instead of the regular versions.
- Try light or low-sugar syrups on pancakes and waffles.
- Spread breads and crackers with no-sugar-added jelly or preserves.
- Snack on whole fruit instead of fruit roll-ups and other fruit-flavored treats.
- When selecting cereals, choose those with no more than 8 grams of sugar per serving.
- Try sugar-free gelatin, popsicles, yogurts, and puddings instead of the regular versions.
- Be aware that desserts labeled fat-free usually contain more sugar than the full-fat varieties and the same number of calories.
- Cut back on or avoid eating sweets and dessert foods, including cookies, cakes, pastries, pies, ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbet, gelato, and flavored ices. All of these foods contain high levels of sugar.
- Read the ingredients list on food labels, and limit foods that list any of the following words in the first few ingredients:
Natural sugars, when eaten in excess, can also raise your triglyceride level.
What Are The Five Tests In A Lipid Panel
A lipid panel measures five different types of lipids from a blood sample, including:
- Total cholesterol: This is your overall cholesterol level the combination of LDL-C, VLDL-C and HDL-C.
- Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol: This is the type of cholesterol thats known as bad cholesterol. It can collect in your blood vessels and increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol: This is a type of cholesterol thats usually present in very low amounts when the blood sample is a fasting samples since its mostly comes from food youve recently eaten. An increase in this type of cholesterol in a fasting sample may be a sign of abnormal lipid metabolism.
- High-density lipoprotein cholesterol: This is the type of cholesterol thats known as good cholesterol. It helps decrease the buildup of LDL in your blood vessels.
- Triglycerides: This is a type of fat from the food we eat. Excess amounts of triglycerides in your blood are associated with cardiovascular disease and pancreatic inflammation.
While these are the main measurements in a standard lipid panel, some versions of the test may include other measurements.
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Why Is High Cholesterol A Problem
Too much cholesterol in the bloodstream can harden arteries and promote fatty deposits within these arteries, potentially leading to dangerous blockages and narrowing over time called atherosclerosis.
If the blood vessels leading to your heart become too clogged, blood supply to your heart is reduced, which can lead to symptoms such as angina . If the artery becomes completely blocked, it can lead to a heart attack and stroke, which can be life threatening.
In 2017, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported 43, 477 deaths in Australia from heart disease. This is approximately 30 per cent of all deaths in Australia, and most deaths are occurring in those aged 65 years and over.
However, heart disease takes years to develop, so you can take steps to reduce your risk.If you discover you have high cholesterol, have family members with high cholesterol, or are not sure if you’re at risk, it is advisable you seek your doctor’s advice.
Other risk factors for heart disease include increased age, ethnicity, family history, inactivity, smoking, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and obesity.If these risk factors are present in your life, it’s even more important to keep your blood cholesterol levels in check and seek your doctor’s advice.
can help you begin to assess your risk, but we strongly advise you discuss your risk with your GP as this tool does have limitations it doesn’t take your family history into account, for example.
Cholesterol Levels For Men And Women
HDL levels differ for men and women
Women naturally have higher HDL cholesterol levels than men due to differences in the genes. Women should aim for an HDL cholesterol level above 1.2mmol/L while men should aim for above 1mmol/L.
Cholesterol levels can rise during pregnancy
During pregnancy, both cholesterol and triglyceride levels can significantly rise. We don’t recommend getting a cholesterol test during pregnancy because your results won’t be accurate. Our advice is to wait until at least 6-8 weeks after your baby is born or after you stop breastfeeding to get a cholesterol test. This means you don’t need to worry unnecessarily.
Cholesterol levels rise during the menopause
Women may also find their cholesterol levels rise during the menopause.
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Do You Need To Lower Your Cholesterol And Triglycerides
They should look at your results in relation to any other risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, being overweight, smoking, and other health conditions such as diabetes.
What Are The Types Of Cholesterol
Cholesterol moves throughout the body carried by lipoproteins in the blood. These lipoproteins include:
- Low-density lipoprotein is one of the two main lipoproteins. LDL is often called the bad cholesterol.
- High-density lipoprotein is the other main lipoprotein. HDL is often called the good cholesterol.
- Very-low-density lipoproteins are particles in the blood that carry triglycerides.
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Hdl Cholesterol: Good Cholesterol
Not all cholesterol is bad. High-density lipoprotein cholesterol is considered good cholesterol because it actually works to keep the LDL, or bad cholesterol from building up in your arteries. The higher the HDL, the better. HDL levels of 60 mg/dL and higher can help reduce your risk for heart disease. Conversely, HDL levels of 40 mg/dL and lower are considered a high risk-factor for developing heart disease.
About Your Cholesterol Result
A cholesterol test can measure:
- total cholesterol the overall amount of cholesterol in your blood, including both “good” and “bad” cholesterol
- total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio the level of good cholesterol in your blood compared to your overall cholesterol level
- good cholesterol this makes you less likely to have heart problems or a stroke
- bad cholesterol this makes you more likely to have heart problems or a stroke
- triglycerides a fatty substance similar to bad cholesterol
When you get your result, you may just be told your total cholesterol.
You might be able to get separate results for your good and bad cholesterol, triglycerides, and your total cholesterol to HDL ratio. Ask your doctor or nurse.
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What Complications Are Possible If You Dont Treat High Cholesterol Levels In Your Blood
The main reason to treat high cholesterol is to prevent or treat coronary heart disease , also called coronary artery disease or CAD. CHD happens when heart is not able to get enough oxygen-rich blood to function well and kills more people in the U.S. than any other cause of death. CHD usually refers to the large arteries, but there is also a condition called coronary microvascular disease that affects the small vessels and causes damage.
Does Age Make A Difference To Recommended Cholesterol Levels
No, recommended cholesterol levels do not change based on age. It was once thought that high cholesterol becomes less of a problem as one ages. However, there is now good evidence that lowering high cholesterol is of benefit even in the elderly.
Previously, there was also concern that some cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins may interfere with ones cognitive function and that this might be more of an issue in the elderly. This has now been debunked. Nevertheless, it is worth starting with a low dose and gradually increasing to avoid any potential side effects.
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What Are The Symptoms Of High Cholesterol
Lifestyle factors include:
- an unhealthy diet– eating too much saturated fat is thought to increase levels of LDL or bad cholesterol
- lack of exercise – this can also increase your levels of LDL
- obesity – being overweight often means you also have higher levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and a lower level of the good HDL.
- drinking too much alcohol
- smoking – if you smoke, a chemical in cigarettes called acrolein stops the good HDL from moving fatty deposits to your liver
- kidney disease
- transient ischaemic attack – or a mini stroke
- peripheral arterial disease
How Cholesterol Moves Around The Body
Cholesterol is a white, insoluble and waxy substance. It is carried around the body by two key transport systems in the blood, which include:
- Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol carries most of the cholesterol that is delivered to cells. It is called the bad cholesterol because when its level in the bloodstream is high, it can clog up your arteries.
- High-density lipoprotein cholesterol is called the good cholesterol, because it helps remove excess cholesterol out of the cells, including cells in the arteries.
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Are Home Cholesterol Testing Kits Accurate
The answer is yes if the tests are labeled CDC-certified. This means that the contents have been approved by the Cholesterol Reference Method Laboratory Network, a group that works with test makers, laboratories and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make sure tests are accurate.
For home tests, you will still need to fast for 12 hours and to obtain blood for testing. Some kits come with packages for mailing to a lab for results. Other kits have a monitor so you can get the results at home. The cost of such home kits varies.
What Are Recommended Cholesterol Levels By Age
Lipids are the by-products of common fat we eat. Lipids are classified as triglycerides , diglycerides , and steroids. Cholesterol is a steroid helping in the formation of cell membranes and hormones. Further, this cholesterol is classified as Low-Density Lipoprotein or LDL, and High-Density Lipoprotein or HDL also called good cholesterol. VLDL is another type of cholesterol secreted by the liver into your bloodstream. VLDL stands for Very-Low Density Lipoprotein. Lipoproteins are formed partly by proteins and partly fat. All three types of lipoproteins vary in the proportion that is made of cholesterol, protein, and triglycerides. VLDL has more of triglycerides, LDL more of cholesterol, and HDL more of protein. That is the reason, LDL and VLDL are together known as the bad cholesterol, they both have a significant role in the formation of plaque. Now, plaque is a thick solid sticky mass made of fat, cholesterol, calcium, and other similar substances that get deposited in the arterial lumen interrupting the blood flow.
All in all, both types of bad cholesterol adversely affects your heart health either by getting deposited in the lumen of your arteries or under your skin and in the liver. If the lumen is completely choked, the organ may not get any blood supply. The plaque may burst and move to smaller arteries blocking them completely.
According to the American Heart Association, the following are the age-wise recommended cholesterol levels:
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Understanding The Highs And Lows Of Cholesterol
You know that too much is dangerous. But what is cholesterol, anyway? Where does it come from? And is it all bad?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found in every cell in the body. Its either made by the body or absorbed from food. Your body needs cholesterol to make important steroid hormones such as estrogen, progesterone and vitamin D. Its also used to make bile acids in the liver these absorb fat during digestion.
So some cholesterol is necessary but bad cholesterol is something you can do without. Excess bad cholesterol in the bloodstream can deposit into the bodys arteries. These deposits are called plaques and result in atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. This is the major cause of heart attacks, strokes and other vascular problems.
Your total cholesterol level is a measure of the total amount of cholesterol circulating in your bloodstream, which includes several components:
- LDL cholesterol: LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. This is known as the bad cholesterol, which directly contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries. Very low density lipoprotein, or VLDL cholesterol, is another type, which is a precursor to LDL.
- Total cholesterol is VLDL cholesterol plus LDL cholesterol plus HDL cholesterol.
- HDL cholesterol: HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. Experts think at optimal levels it might help the body get rid of LDL cholesterol.
And guess what? This buildup can start as early as your 20s.
How Serious Is Hyperlipidemia
Hyperlipidemia can be very serious if its not controlled. As long as high cholesterol is untreated, youre letting plaque accumulate inside your blood vessels. This can lead to a heart attack or stroke because your blood has a hard time getting through your blood vessels. This deprives your brain and heart of the nutrients and oxygen they need to function. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in Americans.
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Drug Therapies To Treat High Cholesterol
When lifestyle changes alone cannot bring down high cholesterol, doctors may recommend medications. The reports that the following drugs and supplements can help:
- Statins: These drugs keep the liver from producing cholesterol.
- Bile acid sequestrants: These drugs reduce the amount of fat that the body absorbs from food.
- Cholesterol absorption inhibitors: These drugs lower levels of fats called triglycerides in the blood and reduce the amount of cholesterol absorbed from food.
- Some vitamins and supplements: These, such as niacin, stop the liver from removing HDL and lower levels of triglycerides.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These raise HDL levels and lower triglyceride levels.
How Does This Cholesterol Calculator Work
The rules for converting cholesterol units of TC , HDL and LDL are the same:
- To get from mmol/L to mg/dL, you need to multiply by 38.67.
- To get from mg/dL to mmol/L multiply by 0.02586.
Conversion for TG is calculated differently:
- To get from mmol/L to mg/dL multiply by 88.57.
- To get from mg/dL to mmol/L multiply by 0.01129.
Itâs possible that youâve also had your glucose level assessed. If you need a hand with glucose units, see our glucose unit converter!
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When Should I Call My Doctor
If you develop new risk factors for cardiovascular disease, contact your healthcare provider. They may have you undergo a lipid panel or more frequent lipid panel screening.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Seeing an abnormal test result can be stressful. Know that having an abnormal lipid panel result doesnt necessarily mean you need treatment. While cholesterol and triglyceride levels can play a significant role in your overall health, many other factors contribute to your risk for cardiovascular disease. Your healthcare provider will take many factors about your health and history into consideration when determining the next steps. Together you will decide on a plan that works best for you.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/09/2021.
What Kind Of Test Measures Cholesterol
Everyone over the age of 20 should get their cholesterol levels measured at least once every five years. Your healthcare provider will order a blood test that will indicate how much cholesterol is carried in your bloodstream. This test will give your cholesterol levels. Your provider might also order what is called a lipid panel or a lipid profile. The panel gives you the following numbers:
- Total cholesterol.
- Non-HDL cholesterol.
- Ratio between cholesterol and HDL.
There are advanced tests that break down the size and shapes of LDL cholesterol levels, and also give the LDL particle number, but those are not normally ordered. Some test makers say that the more advanced tests are better at indicating who is at risk for heart disease, but most providers still feel that the usual tests are adequate.
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