The lipoprotein that can be bad is called "LDL," which stands for low-density lipoprotein. Remember, a lipoprotein forms a shell around cholesterol. Normally, LDLs transport it from your liver and deliver it to the necessary tissues. But if you have a lot of LDLs left over after all of your tissues have been taken care of, the LDLs will "let go" of the extra cholesterol while traveling through your blood. This can cause a buildup known as plaque and can lead to a condition called atherosclerosis, or narrowing and hardening of blood vessels.
The good lipoprotein is called "HDL," which stands for high-density lipoprotein. HDLs are "good," because they pick up the extra cholesterol that was dropped off by the LDLs and brings it to your liver. This way, your liver can repackage it to use it later, or simply get rid of it.
This is why it is good to have high levels of HDL in your system and low levels of LDL. Think of "H" for "high" to help you remember this about HDL. And "L" stands for low, which is a way to remember that you want low levels of LDL.
The only way to determine your cholesterol level is to have a blood test. According to recent guidelines, a person should get a fasting test every five years; however, a person with heart disease risk factors should have this test more frequently.
Several types of tests are available. Each test can look at different components of cholesterol and fats in the blood, including:
- Total cholesterol
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL) -- the "bad" cholesterol
- High density lipoprotein (HDL) -- the "good" cholesterol
Some tests, like a lipid profile done at the doctor's office, will look at all four components. Other tests, like most home tests, only look at total cholesterol. Some tests also provide a ratio or VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) as part of their results.