Most of us have some familiarity with cholesterol, but understanding what, exactly, your cholesterol levels mean for you is another story. A comprehensive understanding of what cholesterol is and how it is tested could be the key to lowering your risk for heart-related illnesses.Why should I be tested?Cholesterol is a fat-like substance and there are two basic types. High levels of HDL cholesterol is linked to a decreased risk of heart attack. High levels of the second type of cholesterol, LDL, is linked to an increased rid of heart disease and clogged arteries. We often refer to LDL as the "bad" cholesterol and HDL as the "good" cholesterol.Though it's a good idea for everyone to know their cholesterol levels, men over 45 and women over 50 are at a higher risk for heart-related illnesses. If you have other risk factors for heart disease (family history, smoking, or high blood pressure) you should also have your cholesterol checked regularly. Knowing your cholesterol is the first step in maintaining your health.Before the test:Getting your cholesterol tested starts with a visit to your primary care physician. Before the test, your doctor may have you fast for nine to twelve hours in order to get an accurate reading of your LDL, which can be affected by the foods you eat. If you don't fast, only your total cholesterol and HDL levels can be accurately interpreted.
At the test:
Cholesterol is tested with a blood sample. Your blood will then be analyzed at a laboratory where your levels will be assessed. You may have other tests done at the same time, depending on the tests your physician has ordered. You should have results back within a few days.
Understanding your results:
Your cholesterol levels will be reported using a measurement of the milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). Other risk factors will come into play when interpreting your results, but the generally, the following guidelines apply.
Your Total Blood Cholesterol Level: Ideally your number should be less than 200 mg/dL. A low number indicated decreased risk for heart disease and heart attack. A number between 200 and 239 mg/dL is considered Borderline High Risk, meaning that preventive treatment, like switching to a heart-healthy diet or quitting smoking, is necessary. Any number of 240 mg/dL is considered High Risk for coronary heart disease and may require medication.
Your HDL Cholesterol Level: The higher your level of HDL the better. Any number above 60 mg/dL provides protecting against heart disease, but the average is 45 mg/dL for men and 55 mg/dL for women.
Your LDL Cholesterol Level: Low levels of LDL are ideal because it lowers your risk of heart attack and stroke. Optimal levels are less than 100 mg/dL, but levels between 100 and 129 mg/dL are also healthy. Borderline levels fall between 130 and 159 mg/dL. High levels that increase your risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke fall between 160 and 189 mg/dL, and any number above 190 mg/dL is considered Very High. Keep in mind that other risk factors must be taken into account to assess total risk, and a healthy number for one person may not be healthy for another.
Your Triglyceride Level: Your report will also include your levels of triglycerides, a type of fat. High levels of triglycerides are associated with high levels of LDL, so ideally this number should be less than 150 mg/dL. A number between 150 and 199 mg/dL is considered Borderline. Levels between 200 and 499 mg/dL are High, and anything over 500 mg/dL is Very High. Higher triglyceride levels are connected to obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, and a high-carb diet. Changes in lifestyle can combat high numbers.The next steps:Now that you know your numbers, you can take the steps that are best for you. Go over your results with your doctor. If your numbers are too high in some places and too low in others, changes in diet, level of exercise, smoking, and alcohol consumption can have a huge impact on your cholesterol. Keeping cholesterol in check is key in lowering your risk of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack. Even if your numbers are considered Very High, cholesterol medication can help you in your effort to take control.