Understanding Cholesterol Testing

Because there is often a strong correlation between elevated levels of blood cholesterol and heart disease, most healthcare providers consider cholesterol blood testing an extremely valuable diagnostic tool.

Cholesterol is associated with a group of fatty substances called lipids that move through the bloodstream attached to proteins. When the lipid and the protein join, they become a molecule called a lipoprotein. Cholesterol is associated with different lipoproteins, all of which have different effects on cardiovascular health.

A high level of bad cholesterol and other blood lipids is most often associated with atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits on arterial walls that often leads to heart attacks. Coronary artery disease is also associated with a high blood cholesterol reading.

Measuring cholesterol actually involves three blood fats:

  • low-density lipoprotein, or LDL cholesterol (also called “bad” cholesterol);
  • high-density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol (also called “good” cholesterol);
  • and triglycerides.

In evaluating a person’s cholesterol level, the healthcare provider will look at total cholesterol, triglycerides and the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol.

Most healthcare providers consider that:

  • A total cholesterol level of 240 or above is high and they usually monitor patients with these levels carefully using regular testing and therapy.
  • A reading of 200 to 239 is considered borderline, or high if other cardiac risk factors, like a family history of heart disease, are present.
  • And a reading below 200 is low and therefore desirable.

High cholesterol levels usually occur in midlife, but abnormally high cholesterol levels can occur in any age group, even in infants, if blood lipid abnormality runs in the family. If you are concerned about your risk for heart disease, ask your healthcare provider to check your cholesterol level; and if your cholesterol level is too high for good health, ask your healthcare provider to recommend a diet and exercise program that will help bring your cholesterol level down.

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