You reach your hand into a bucket of fried chicken and feel a wave of guilt. The tasty treat is loaded with cholesterol -- that nasty lipid your doctor has been warning you about. You may be surprised to know that your body needs cholesterol to make hormones, bile acid and vitamin D. However, there are two different types -- high-density lipoprotein, or "good" cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein, or "bad" cholesterol. HDL is beneficial to your health because it collects LDL from the blood stream and returns it to the liver for disposal. LDL is bad for your health because it can clog your arteries and cause a heart attack or stroke. A simple blood test will reveal your HDL and LDL levels. Although lifestyle changes will often improve your cholesterol significantly, some individuals may need medication for hyperlipidemia.
Cholesterol numbers are determined through a blood test called a lipid panel. If your doctor orders a lipid panel, you'll need to refrain from consuming anything except water for nine to 12 hours before the test. You'll even have to skip your morning coffee. Your doctor may also ask you to stop taking some medications such as birth control, which may alter the test results. A technician will draw blood from a vein in your arm after the skin has been sterilized. The blood is sent to a laboratory for analysis. It may take several days to get the results. The results will be broken down into four categories: total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Total cholesterol is a combination of your LDL and HDL scores. There is no minimum for total cholesterol. A score below 200 milligrams per deciliter is considered "desirable" and indicates that you are at low risk for coronary artery disease, or CAD. A score between 200 and 239 milligrams per deciliter is "borderline high," and a score of about 240 milligrams per deciliter is "high." An individual with high cholesterol is more than twice as likely to develop CAD than an individual with cholesterol below 200 milligrams per deciliter, according to the American Heart Association.
Unlike total cholesterol, it's better to have a high HDL score than a low score. For women, 50 milligrams per deciliter is the minimum HDL level. Any score below 50 signifies a major risk of heart disease. A score of 60 milligrams per deciliter or above indicates that you have plenty of "good" cholesterol protecting your heart from disease. You can increase your HDL levels by quitting tobacco, losing weight and exercising.
The maximum desired score for LDL cholesterol is 129 milligrams per deciliter. Between 130 and 159 milligrams is considered borderline high. Between 160 and 189 milligrams per deciliter is high, and above 190 milligrams is very high. An LDL score between 100 and 129 milligrams per deciliter is considered near or above optimal, while a score below 100 is optimal. Your LDL cholesterol score is generally a better indicator of your risk of heart disease than the total score, according to the American Heart Association.
Carolyn Robbins began writing in 2006. Her work appears on various websites and covers various topics including neuroscience, physiology, nutrition and fitness. Robbins graduated with a bachelor of science degree in biology and theology from Saint Vincent College.