What Is Cholesterol?

What Is LDL Cholesterol?

The cholesterol complex, or lipoprotein, that can be bad is called "LDL." LDL stands for low density lipoprotein. Remember, a lipoprotein is a protein that forms a shell around cholesterol. Normally, LDLs transport cholesterol from your liver and deliver it to the tissues that need it. 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 of cholesterol known as plaque and lead to a condition called atherosclerosis, or narrowing and hardening of blood vessels.

What Is HDL Cholesterol?

The good lipoprotein, which is also known as the "good cholesterol," is called "HDL." HDL stands for high density lipoprotein. HDL cholesterol is "good cholesterol," because it picks 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.

How Is Cholesterol Tested?

The only way to determine your cholesterol level is to have a blood test. According to recent guidelines, a person should get a fasting cholesterol test every five years; however, people with risk factors for heart disease should have their cholesterol tested more frequently.
There are several types of tests 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
  • Triglycerides.
Some cholesterol tests, like a lipid profile done at the doctor's office, will look at all four components. Other tests, like most home cholesterol tests, only look at total cholesterol. Some tests also provide a cholesterol ratio or VLDL (very low density lipoprotein) as part of their results.
(Click Cholesterol Test for more information.)
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