sample lipid panel

Cholesterol and blood test results

by Guy Spinelli, M.D.

Cholesterol tests: what do the numbers mean?

Your total cholesterol number is just part of the picture. HDL and LDL are also important and other risk factors can play an important role.

Introduction

One of the most common questions that patients have for their primary care physician is "What is my cholesterol and is it good or bad?" Cholesterol has become a national priority because of its role in coronary artery disease and heart attacks. The National Cholesterol Education Project (NCEP) has made cholesterol education and reduction a top goal for the US population. The NCEP has set standards for desirable cholesterol levels and goals for treatment of hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol).

What does your cholesterol level mean?

It is important to know that cholesterol levels need to be interpreted in light of other clinical factors. For example, a cholesterol level of 195 might be desirable in one patient and too high in another. Furthermore, the total cholesterol may not be all that high, but in conjunction with a low HDL (good cholesterol) it might be worrisome. Associated risk factors play a big role in interpreting cholesterol levels. Patients who have two or more risk factors, in general, need to maintain lower levels of cholesterol. Let's look at some of the medical lingo of cholesterol interpretation.

Total Cholesterol:

Total cholesterol refers to the total amount of cholesterol as measured in the blood stream. This is the number that most people refer to when they say, "What's my cholesterol?"

In general, a desirable total cholesterol is under 200. Total cholesterol is a measured value, meaning it is determined by chemical analysis of your blood. If your total cholesterol is over 200, you need to know your HDL and LDL to tell if you're doing OK or need further treatment.

HDL Cholesterol:

HDL refers to "High Density Lipoprotein" and is commonly known as the "Good Cholesterol." It is called the good one because it helps protect your arteries from getting deposits of cholesterol that clog them. A desirable HDL is over 35, but the higher, the better. If your HDL is under 35, it is considered a "risk factor." HDL is a measured value.

LDL Cholesterol:

LDL refers to "Low Density Lipoprotein" and is commonly called the "Bad Cholesterol." It is known as the bad one because it clogs the arteries and is directly associated with heart attacks and some strokes. A desirable LDL is under 130 unless you have two "risk factors." If you have two or more risk factors, a desirable LDL is under 100!

Triglyceride:

Triglyceride is a type of fat transport system in the blood stream. Triglyceride is directly related to what you eat. High fat, high carbohydrate diets lead to high triglyceride. A desirable triglyceride is under 200. Very high triglyceride can cause pancreatitis and other problems.

Risk Factors:

Risk factors are associated conditions that make you more prone to hardening of the arteries at lower levels of cholesterol. Risk factors include being a man, having diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, or previous coronary artery disease or having a low LDL (under 35). You should try to get your risk factors under control because this will help prevent hardening of the arteries.

Guidelines

Total Cholesterol Level

Desirable / Borderline / High

Treatment

<200

Desirable

None

>200 but < 240
>2 risk factors

Borderline

Diet and repeat 
in 3 to 4 months

>240
LDL > 130 but <160
<2 risk factors

Borderline

Diet and repeat 
in 3 to 4 months

>240
LDL > 130 known 
coronary artery disease

High

Diet and medication
follow closely

>240
LDL > 130 
known diabetes

High

Diet and medication
follow closely

>240
LDL > 160 two or 
more risk factors

High

Diet and medication
follow closely

>240
LDL > 190 with or 
without risk factors

High

Diet and medication
follow closely

If you have any questions or to schedule an appointment with a Granite Medical Physician or Nurse Practitioner please contact us.

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