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What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?

February 9, 2022

If you’ve recently gotten your cholesterol levels checked, you probably were handed a list of numbers – for total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides.

What do they mean?

The first thing you need to know is that the numbers by themselves do not necessarily mean you are at a higher – or lower – risk of heart problems or stroke. Cholesterol numbers are just one part of the story, which also includes your age, blood pressure, history of smoking, and use of blood pressure medications.

The more risk factors you have, the more likely you will develop health problems.

However, cholesterol numbers are important. And understanding what the numbers mean can help you get started on the road to improving your health.

  • Total Cholesterol. Your total blood cholesterol is a measure of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL), known as bad cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), or good cholesterol, and other lipid or fat components in your blood, such as triglycerides, the form in which most fat exists in food and the body.
  • LDL cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease. Lowering your LDL cholesterol number reduces your risk. If your LDL is 190 or more, it is very high. Your doctor will likely prescribe a statin, which can help lower your cholesterol levels, and recommend that you change your lifestyle to adopt healthier habits. Healthy habits may involve eating healthier, getting more exercise, and avoiding tobacco products.
  • HDL cholesterol protects against heart disease by taking the LDL or bad cholesterol out of your blood and preventing it from building up in your arteries. Generally, a higher number means a lower risk. A statin can increase your HDL. So can exercise.
  • Triglycerides tend to reflect your LDL levels. For example, if you have high triglyceride levels, you also have low HDL levels and high levels of LDL. The combination of high triglycerides and high LDL raises the chance of having a heart attack or stroke.

The good news is that many medications used to treat abnormal cholesterol levels also help lower high triglyceride numbers. If your triglycerides are very high – over 500 mg/dL – you may get medicine to lower them.

HDL cholesterol and other lipid components. Your doctor will use your total cholesterol number when determining your risk for heart disease and how best to manage it.

Bottom line: You should get your cholesterol levels checked at least once every five years if you’re over 20. Experts recommend that men 35 and older and women 45 and older be screened more often.

Get the Care You Need

Ready to take the next step for a healthier life? Grady can help.  If you need a primary care physician, give us a call at (404) 616-1000. We’ll arrange an appointment at a Primary Care Center near you. Doctors there can treat most conditions and provide access to Grady’s unparalleled medical specialty expertise.

woman looking at cholesterol medication


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