High cholesterol

Your body needs cholesterol. Though that may come as a shock, the truth is that the waxy substance known as cholesterol is manufactured by the liver and circulated through the blood. In addition, we all get cholesterol from the foods we eat, particularly from meat and dairy products. Though cholesterol is necessary for good health, too much of it can lead to a build-up of plaque on your artery walls that limits blood flow through the body.

It’s helpful, then, to know your cholesterol levels. Total blood cholesterol is the most common measurement of blood cholesterol. Knowing your total blood cholesterol level is an important first step in determining your risk for heart disease. However, a critical second step is knowing your HDL (good) and your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.

Your doctor must interpret your cholesterol numbers based on other risk factors, such as age, family history, smoking, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity and diabetes. Nevertheless, here are some general measures of cholesterol levels to help you understand what your doctor is looking at. Cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood, or mg/dL.

Total Cholesterol

  • Less than 200 mg/dL is considered desirable blood cholesterol
  • 200 to 239 mg/dL is considered borderline high blood cholesterol
  • 240 mg/dL and over is considered high blood cholesterol

These are general recommendations; individual goal numbers should be discussed between you and your provider.

HDL Cholesterol

  • Less than 40 mg/dL is considered low HDL cholesterol
  • Greater than or equal to 60 mg/dL is considered high HDL cholesterol

These recommendations are altered in patients with known coronary heart disease because an otherwise normal or desirable total cholesterol level may be too high for such patients. Many of these patients are prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs.