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.
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.
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.
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.
Guidelines established by the National Cholesterol Education Program:
Less than 100 = optimal
100-129 = near optimal/above optimal
130-159 = borderline high
160-189 = high
Above or equal to 190 = very high
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
Less than 150 = normal
150-199 = borderline high
200-499 = high
Above or equal to 500 = very high
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.