Cholesterol Levels

Cholesterol numbers often include the levels for total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and HDL cholesterol. What is considered a normal level for these different types of cholesterol varies. For example, a total cholesterol level under 200 mg/dL is ideal, whereas an LDL of below 100 mg/dL is considered optimal.

Understanding the Different Levels of Cholesterol

A number of different cholesterol tests are available today, and each can be slightly different in what it measures. For example, some home cholesterol tests only check total cholesterol. Another cholesterol test, called a lipid profile or lipid panel, will measure several things, including:
  • Total cholesterol
  • Low density lipoprotein (LDL) -- the "bad" cholesterol
  • High density lipoprotein (HDL) -- the "good" cholesterol
  • Triglycerides.
A lipid profile may also show several cholesterol ratios (see Cholesterol Ratio).
Knowing your cholesterol levels will help you understand your risk for developing heart disease or other complications of high cholesterol.

Total Cholesterol Levels

The level of total cholesterol (as the name implies) refers to the total amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream. Total cholesterol combines levels for HDL, LDL, and another type of cholesterol known as VLDL, or very low density lipoprotein.
A total cholesterol reading over 240 mg/dL is high, a level between 200 and 239 mg/dL is borderline high, and anything under 200 is a healthy cholesterol level. If your total cholesterol is higher than 240 mg/dL, your risk for heart disease and stroke is higher.
Total Cholesterol Level
Total Cholesterol Category
Less than 200 mg/dL
200-239 mg/dL
Borderline high
240 mg/dL and above
(Cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams [mg] of cholesterol per deciliter [dL] of blood.)
Total cholesterol can be misleading, though, because a person can have a healthy total cholesterol and still have either a low HDL level or a high LDL level. Therefore, most cholesterol treatment decisions are based on HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, not total cholesterol. So, it's best to think of the total cholesterol number as an overview number.
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