Cholesterol is a soft, wax-like substance found in all parts of the body. Your body needs a little bit of cholesterol to work properly. But too much cholesterol can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease.
Cholesterol blood tests are done to help you and your health care provider better understand your risk for heart disease, stroke, and other problems caused by narrowed or blocked arteries.
The ideal values for all cholesterol results depend on whether you have heart disease, diabetes, or other risk factors. Your provider can tell you what your goal should be.
Some cholesterol is considered good and some is considered bad. Different blood tests can be done to measure each type of cholesterol.
Your provider may order only a total cholesterol level as the first test. It measures all types of cholesterol in your blood.
You may also have a lipid (or coronary risk) profile, which includes:
Lipoproteins are made of fat and protein. They carry cholesterol, triglycerides, and other fats, called lipids, in the blood to various parts of the body.
Everyone should have their first screening test by age 35 for men, and age 45 for women. Some guidelines recommend starting at age 20.
You should have a cholesterol test done at an earlier age if you have:
Follow-up testing should be done:
A total cholesterol of 180 to 200 mg/dL or less is considered best.
You may not need more cholesterol tests if your cholesterol is in this normal range.
LDL cholesterol is sometimes called "bad" cholesterol. LDL can clog your arteries.
You want your LDL to be low. Too much LDL is linked to heart disease and stroke.
Your LDL is most often considered to be too high if it is 190 mg/dL or higher.
Levels between 70 and 189 mg/dL are most often considered too high if:
Health care providers have traditionally set a target level for your LDL cholesterol if you are being treated with medicines to lower your cholesterol.
You want your HDL cholesterol to be high. Studies of both men and women have shown that the higher your HDL, the lower your risk of coronary artery disease. This is why HDL is sometimes referred to as "good" cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol levels greater than 40 to 60 mg/dL are desired.
VLDL contains the highest amount of triglycerides. VLDL is considered a type of bad cholesterol, because it helps cholesterol build up on the walls of arteries.
Normal VLDL levels are from 2 to 30 mg/dL.
Sometimes, your cholesterol levels may be low enough that your provider will not ask you to change your diet or take any medicines.
Cholesterol test results; LDL test results; VLDL test results; HDL test results; Coronary risk profile results; Hyperlipidemia-results; Lipid disorder test results
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Updated by: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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