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How to decipher your cholesterol numbers

HDL too low? LDL too high? And what exactly are triglycerides? If you have ever felt confused by your cholesterol numbers, you aren’t alone. 

Cholesterol is a key measure of the circulating fats in your blood. It gets a bad rap, but some cholesterol is important for your body to function properly. 

However, when cholesterol is too high, it puts your body at risk for serious diseases.

Why cholesterol tests are important

Your cholesterol test results are important because they indicate if you are at risk for atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque on artery walls.

Testing is especially important because high cholesterol often has no symptoms.

Are certain cholesterol values more important than others?

When you undergo a cholesterol screening, your physician will check your total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglyceride values.

Doctors consider total cholesterol over HDL ratio. Ideally, the number is below 3.

Here’s a more in-depth breakdown of ideal cholesterol values:

  • Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL.
  • HDL or “good” cholesterol: 60 mg/dL and above. HDL binds itself to bad cholesterol in the arteries and carries it to the liver where it can be reprocessed. Higher HDL levels decrease your risk for heart disease.
  • LDL or “bad” cholesterol: Less than 100 mg/dL. LDL collects on blood vessel walls, which leads hardening and narrowing of the arteries, blockages, and increased risk for heart disease.
  • Triglycerides: Less than 100 mg/dL. Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood and are used by the body for energy. However, high triglyceride levels may be a sign of metabolic syndrome and can put you at risk for heart disease. High triglycerides typically result from a diet high in saturated and trans fat, lack of exercise, and/or obesity. Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight usually significantly lowers triglycerides.

Lifestyle changes to lower cholesterol

Lifestyle changes, like a low-fat diet and regular exercise, can make a big different in lowering cholesterol, but some people need medication to combat high levels.

These tactics can help lower your cholesterol:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Manage your blood sugar levels, particularly if you are diabetic.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Reduce your stress. High-stress situations can raise your blood pressure (further increasing your risk of heart disease) and may tempt you to overeat high-fat foods, which raises LDL cholesterol.
  • Watch your weight. Weight loss can both raise HDL and lower LDL.
  • Maintain a healthy diet low in saturated and trans fat.
  • Base your meals around fresh vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
  • Choose low-fat or nonfat dairy products.
  • Limit red meat.
  • Eat fish at least twice a week.
  • Reduce sodium intake.
  • Avoid sugary beverages.

Talk to your primary care physician about your cholesterol levels – knowing your numbers can save your life.

Or, book an appointment with a Piedmont cardiologist. 


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