Cholesterol Numbers

A cholesterol test measures the amount of cholesterol in your bloodstream. Total cholesterol numbers over 240 mg/dL are considered high. While knowing your total number is helpful, it's also important to know your LDL and HDL numbers. Your ideal LDL cholesterol level may be different from someone else's based on your risk factors for heart disease.

Cholesterol Numbers: An Introduction

Knowing your cholesterol numbers is vital to understanding your potential risk for heart disease. Because high cholesterol does not cause noticeable symptoms, the only way you can know if your levels are too high is to get your cholesterol checked.
A number of different cholesterol tests are available today, and each can be slightly different in what they measure. For example, some home tests will only provide you with total cholesterol numbers. Another 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).

What Do Total Cholesterol Numbers Measure?

Total cholesterol numbers (as the name implies) measure the total amount of cholesterol in the bloodstream. These numbers combine levels for HDL, LDL, and another type of cholesterol known as VLDL, or very low-density lipoprotein.
However, these numbers can be misleading because a person can have a healthy total cholesterol reading and still have low HDL or high LDL. Therefore, most cholesterol treatment decisions are based on HDL and LDL cholesterol numbers, not total numbers. Therefore, it's best to consider total cholesterol as an overview of your cholesterol level.
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