What Is a Normal Cholesterol Count?

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More and more people want to get a better handle on what they can do to get healthier. Physicians often recommend starting with the basics, such as getting your cholesterol checked. Cholesterol levels have been shown to be a useful indicator of heart disease. Your doctor will explain your results, but it's important for you to understand what the numbers mean.

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Facts

The soft fat found in the bloodstream and in cells is known as cholesterol. Cholesterol is an important part of a healthy body. It helps to form cell membranes, necessary tissues and some hormones. However, not all cholesterol is helpful, and excess cholesterol in the blood puts people at risk for strokes and coronary artery disease, which is associated with heart attacks.

Types

LDL, or low-density lipoprotein, carries cholesterol through the blood to sites in the body where it is used to either repair damaged cell membranes or simply deposited. Known as bad cholesterol, LDL also facilitates the building up of cholesterol in the arteries, which can lead to blockages.

HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, transports cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver, where it is processed and excreted. Known as good cholesterol, HDL protects against heart attacks.

Triglycerides are forms of fat made by the body and are associated with high levels of LDL and low levels of HDL. Together with cholesterol, triglycerides form the plasma lipids.

Numbers

Blood tests are taken to determine cholesterol levels. Doctors must order these blood tests and the results are delivered to medical professionals to be released to patients. At-home cholesterol tests are available, but these devices will not break down your results into LDL (bad cholesterol) and HDL (good cholesterol). These ratios are important to understanding risks. Blood fat tests report cholesterol levels in milligrams per decilitre or mg/dl. Establishing baseline cholesterol levels allow doctors and patients to establish whether changes in diet and exercise or medications have been effective.

Normal levels

Guidelines established by the National Cholesterol Education Program:

LDL (mg/dl)

Less than 100 = optimal

100-129 = near optimal/above optimal

130-159 = borderline high

160-189 = high

Above or equal to 190 = very high

HDL (mg/dl)

Less than 40 = low

40-59 = normal

Above or equal to 60 = high

Total cholesterol (mg/dl)

Less than 200 = desirable

200-239 = borderline high

Above or equal to 240 = high

Triglycerides (mg/dl)

Less than 150 = normal

150-199 = borderline high

200-499 = high

Above or equal to 500 = very high

Ratios

According to an online post on the Mayo Clinic's web site by cardiologist Thomas Behrenbeck, cholesterol ratio can be useful in determining heart disease risk. To arrive at your cholesterol ratio, simply divide your total cholesterol by your HDL. So, if your total cholesterol is 250 mg/dl and your HDL is 50, then your ratio is 5-to-1. Keeping your cholesterol ration below 5-to-1 is recommended as a higher ratio has been associated with a higher risk of heart disease, while a lower ratio seems to prevent heart disease.

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