Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your body. There are three primary types of cholesterol: HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is sometimes referred to as “good cholesterol” because it carries cholesterol back to your liver, which then removes it from your body. LDL (low-density lipoprotein) and VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein) are often referred to as “bad cholesterol” because they both lead to a buildup of plaque in your arteries.
Cholesterol is important. Your body needs cholesterol to make hormones, produce vitamin D, and make healthy cells. However, your body generally makes all the cholesterol it needs, and excess cholesterol in your blood may join with other substances to form plaque. This plaque sticks to the walls of your arteries and can lead to an array of serious health conditions, such as coronary artery disease, blood clots, chest angina, heart attack, stroke, and more.
Common Symptoms of High Cholesterol
High cholesterol does not cause any symptoms. The only way to determine whether or not you have high cholesterol is through a lipid panel. A lipid panel is a group of tests that measures cholesterol and other fats in your blood.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends that adult men should receive a lipid panel test every 1-2 years between the ages of 45-65. Women should be tested every 1-2 years between the ages of 55-65. Adults over the age of 65 should receive a lipid panel test every year.
Children usually receive a lipid panel test once between the ages of 9-11 and every five years after that.
Your provider will discuss the results of your lipid panel with you but for reference, see below:
Total Cholesterol - lower is better:
- Below 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is considered healthy
- 200 to 239 mg/dL is borderline high
- 240 mg/dL is high
HDL (Good Cholesterol) - higher is better:
60 mg/dL or higher is best -- High HDL levels protect against heart disease
- 40 to 59 mg/dL is a healthy level of HDL
- Less than 40 mg/dL is low, which can increase risk of heart disease
LDL ("bad cholesterol") - lower is better:
- Less than 100 mg/dL is ideal, especially for individuals who have coronary heart disease
- 100 to 129 mg/dL is optimal for individuals at risk of coronary artery disease
- 130 to 159 mg/dL is OK for individuals with little risk of coronary artery disease
- 160 to 189 mg/dL is high
- 190 mg/dL or more is very high
Triglycerides - lower is better:
- 150 mg/dL or less is desirable
- 151 to 200 mg/dL is borderline high
- 200 to 499 mg/dl is high, which increases your risk of heart disease
- Over 500 mg/dl is very high
High Cholesterol Risk Factors
There are several factors that can increase your risk for developing high cholesterol. These include:
- Family history of heart disease or high cholesterol
- Being overweight/ having obesity
- Cigarette smoking
- Lack of physical activity/ cardiovascular conditions
- High blood pressure
- Unhealthy diet
- History of high cholesterol