High cholesterol is a major risk for heart disease, which kills more than half a million people per year. Regular cholesterol readings can tell you whether your cholesterol levels are good or bad and potentially save your life. The American Heart Association recommends that all adults age 20 or older have a fasting lipid profile – which includes values for total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides – done every five years.
Total cholesterol measures the sum of all types of cholesterol in your blood. A total cholesterol level of less than 200 milligrams per deciliter is desirable. Readings between 200 and 239 milligrams per deciliter are borderline high, while readings that exceed 239 milligrams per deciliter are classified as high.
LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, is the lipid known as the “bad" cholesterol. LDL can build up in your blood vessels, leading to thickening of the arteries – called atherosclerosis – and eventually, heart disease. To protect yourself from heart disease, it is best to keep your LDL reading as low as possible. A reading below 100 milligrams per deciliter is considered ideal, although readings between 100 and 129 milligrams per deciliter are described as near ideal. Anything over 129 milligrams per deciliter is considered high.
HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, helps lower your LDL cholesterol levels by picking up excess cholesterol in your blood vessels and bringing it to your liver for removal from the body. Because of this, HDL is often described as “good" cholesterol and higher numbers are considered desirable. An HDL level of 60 milligrams per deciliter or higher is considered good. A bad HDL reading is less than 40 milligrams per deciliter for men and less than 50 milligrams per deciliter for women.
Although triglycerides aren’t technically cholesterol, they are measured during a cholesterol test because like cholesterol, these lipids give important clues about your heart health. A good, or desirable, triglyceride level is one that falls below 150 milligrams per deciliter. Triglyceride levels between 150 and 199 milligrams per deciliter are categorized as borderline high, while triglyceride levels between 200 and 499 milligrams per deciliter are high. If your triglycerides measure 500 milligrams per deciliter or higher, your risk of heart disease is considered very high.
Lindsay Boyers has a Bachelor of Science in nutrition from Framingham State College and a certificate in holistic nutrition from the American College of Healthcare Sciences. She is also a licensed aesthetician with advanced training in skincare and makeup. She plans to continue on with her education, complete a master's degree program in nutrition and, ultimately, become a registered dietitian.