Making Sense of Your Cholesterol Numbers

Aug 24, 2014 / Geriatrics / Seniors

Chances are, you’ve talked to your doctor about the importance of keeping your cholesterol levels healthy. Cholesterol levels are a key factor in predicting your chance of having a heart attack or stroke, which is why your health care provider wants to know your levels and if they have changed.

Below are some basic guidelines to help you understand your cholesterol levels. Keep in mind that your cholesterol numbers are best evaluated as part of a larger picture that includes your age, weight, blood pressure, smoking status, and possible use of blood pressure medications and other drugs including statins. Having diabetes or a history of heart or vascular disease will also affect what the numbers should be.

LDL (low-density lipoprotein)
This type of cholesterol is known as the “bad” cholesterol. LDL can build up on the walls of your arteries and increase your chances of getting heart disease. The following are general guidelines on LDL for those not suffering from heart or blood vessel disease.

100 or under: Optimal (for those on medications; with history of diabetes or vascular disease)
100 – 129: Ideal for most
130 – 159: Borderline high
160 – 189: High
190 or above: Very high

HDL (high-density lipoprotein)
Known as the “good” cholesterol, HDL helps protect against heart disease by removing the bad cholesterol from your blood and preventing it from building up in your arteries. Remember that a high HDL number is better for you.

60 or more: Good, and considered protective against heart disease
40 – 59: Okay, but the higher the number the better
40 or under: Low, and can be considered a risk factor for heart disease

Triglycerides
These are the most common types of fat found in the body. Normal triglyceride levels will vary by age and sex. Remember that a high triglyceride level combined with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol is associated with atherosclerosis – the buildup of fatty deposits in the walls of our arteries that increases our risk for heart attack and stroke.

150 or less: Normal
150 – 100: Borderline high
200 – 499: High
500 or higher: Very high

Total Cholesterol
A total cholesterol test measures all types of cholesterol in your blood. The results help tell your doctor whether your cholesterol levels are too high.

200 or lower: Best
200 – 239: Borderline high
240 and above: High

If your cholesterol and/or triglyceride numbers are too high, you may be able to improve them through diet and exercise. Different medications can also be used to improve your numbers. Your health care provider can tell you more about how you can keep your cholesterol and triglyceride levels in a safe and healthy range.

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