Why Your Cholesterol Numbers Matter

Understanding your cholesterol levels can help you assessing your risk for heart disease. The higher your total cholesterol, the greater your risk for  heart attack and stroke.

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States, but it often goes undetected until it’s too late. Having your cholesterol levels checked regularly can help you diagnose heart disease before you have a potentially deadly heart attack or stroke. Check your cholesterol levels at least every five years as part of your annual physical.  If you already have heart disease or you’re at risk for high cholesterol because of family history or another medical issue, more frequent checks are often needed.

Understanding Cholesterol Levels

There are two kinds of cholesterol levels:

  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is considered the “good” cholesterol, and you want this number to be high.
  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the “bad” cholesterol, and you want this number to be low.

Total cholesterol is measured through a simple blood test known as a lipid panel. This test measures your HDL and LDL levels along with your triglycerides, a certain type of fat found in your blood. Your healthcare provider can perform a lipid panel in the office and send it to the lab. You can also get this test yourself through Direct Access Laboratory Testing at River’s Edge Hospital.

LDL cholesterol levels:

  • An optimal LDL level should be less than 100 mg/deciliter (dL).
  • Levels of 100 to 129 mg/dL can be OK for healthy people, but they can be more concerning if you already have heart disease or heart disease risk factors.
  • Levels of 130 to 159 mg/dL are borderline high, and 160 to 189 mg/dL is high.

HDL cholesterol levels:

  • Your HDL levels should be 60 mg/dL or higher.
  • Levels ranging from 41 mg/dL to 59 mg/dL are considered borderline low.
  • Anything less than 40 mg/dL is considered a major risk factor for heart disease.

Total cholesterol levels:

  • A normal total cholesterol level for adults without heart disease is less than 200 mg/dL
  • Between 200 and 239 mg/dL is borderline high.
  • Levels of 240 mg/dL and above is considered high.

Tips to Lower Your Cholesterol

Try these lifestyle changes to lower your cholesterol.

  • Heart-healthy eating. Limit the amount of saturated and trans fats that you eat. Examples of heart-healthy foods include avocados, nuts, fatty fish, whole grains, fruits and berries.
  • Weight Management. If you are overweight, losing weight can help lower your LDL cholesterol.
  • Physical Activity. Exercising at least 150 minutes a week to help lower your LDL levels.
  • Stress Management. Chronic stress can sometimes raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol.
  • Quitting smoking. When you quit smoking, you can raise your HDL cholesterol by removing the LDL cholesterol from your arteries.

Lifestyle changes alone many not be enough to lower your cholesterol levels. In these cases, healthcare providers may recommend one of several types of cholesterol-lowing medications.

If you haven’t had your cholesterol checked in the last five years, a River’s Edge Express Clinic provider can provide a physical, check your cholesterol and do other blood work, and help you understand the results.

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