What Do Your Cholesterol Test Results Mean?
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that plays a key role in producing several hormones and vitamin D. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs to function properly.
Excess cholesterol, obtained from consuming red meat, fried foods, and other processed foods builds up in the arteries and hardens, making it harder for blood to flow as needed.
This build-up, known as atherosclerosis, does not have many symptoms in the early stages. However, it can lead to severe chest pains known as angina and eventually a heart attack. Therefore, it is important to check your cholesterol regularly and make sure you are within a healthy range.
What Does a Cholesterol Test Measure?
A cholesterol test not only measures the level of cholesterol in your body, but also three different types of fat:
- : the “bad cholesterol” and main cause of cholesterol build-up.
- : the “good cholesterol” which transports excess cholesterol to the liver to then be excreted
- : a fat that is linked to heart disease.
What Do Cholesterol Test Numbers Mean?
Your cholesterol levels will not only be measured against an “average standard” but also your individual risk factors. If your levels seem elevated, consult your healthcare provider to help you interpret your results.
Total blood cholesterol level:
- High risk: 240 mg/dL and above
- Borderline high risk: 200–239 mg/dL
- Desirable: Less than 200 mg/dL
LDL cholesterol level:
- High risk: 190 mg/dL and above
- Lower risk: 189 mg/dL and below
Depending on your risk factor, you may need to lower your LDL by 30% to 50% to maintain a healthy heart and blood vessels.
HDL cholesterol level:
- High risk: Less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women.
- High risk: 200 mg/dL and above
- Borderline high risk: 150–199 mg/dL
- Normal: below 150 mg/dL
What Are Other Risk Factors?
When assessing you for heightened cholesterol, your healthcare provider will also ask you about:
- Family history
- Blood pressure
- Physical activity
- Smoking status
- Blood sugar level
- And other health conditions you have that may put you at a higher risk of heart disease and heart attacks
Preparing For Your Cholesterol Test
Your healthcare provider will either suggest doing a “fasting” or “non-fasting” cholesterol test.
If you do a “non-fasting” test, you can show up to the lab at any time to have your blood drawn without needing to prepare in any way.
If your healthcare provider specifically requests you do “fasting” bloodwork, ensure you haven't eaten or drunk anything (except water) for 9–12 hours prior to visiting the lab. Typically, this is best done in the morning after you have woken up.
If your results from a non-fasting test come back elevated, your healthcare provider may have you do fasting bloodwork to get a better idea of your condition.
What To Expect After The Test
Based on your cholesterol test results and any other risk factors you may have, your healthcare provider may suggest dietary and physical activity improvements to make to reduce your risk for heart failure.
They may also suggest medication to lower and regulate your cholesterol levels.
How Often Should I Have a Cholesterol Test?
It is recommended that, over the age of 20, you test your cholesterol a minimum of every 5 years. If you have a higher risk factor, your healthcare provider may suggest you get tested more often.