What the Numbers Mean
Tips for understanding the results of your cholesterol blood test.
If you're confused by the different cholesterol numbers that your blood test reveals, you're not alone. The medical community knows much more about the nuances of cholesterol today than they did in recent history.
"Fifteen years ago, all we looked at was total cholesterol," says Debbie Strong, dietitian at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation's Heart and Vascular Institute in Louisiana. Today it is known that LDL cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins) is especially harmful, because it tends to accumulate on blood vessel walls as plaque. Another form, HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins), is beneficial, because it helps ferry the bad (LDL) cholesterol out of the body. Research has revealed that measures of triglycerides, a form of fat particles in the blood, are also linked to heart-disease risk. Today, LDL, HDL and triglyceride levels are considered far more important than total cholesterol.
Optimal Numbers for Most Individuals*
Total Cholesterol: Less than 200
Triglyceride (Less is better): Below 150
LDL (Bad) Cholesterol (Less is better): Below 100
HDL (Good) Cholesterol (More is better): Above 60
* Risk factors vary. Check with your doctor for your targets.