Cholesterol Testing

The link between high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream with increased risk of heart disease has been well-established.

Many health-conscious persons are having their cholesterol levels tested to determine their risk and to seek appropriate treatment when needed.

Yet, test results may vary from one lab to the next, and often what is considered “normal” for a given sampling of people may actually be well above the guidelines recommended by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Additionally, other factors such as age, sex, and the amount of “good” cholesterol (HDL) in your bloodstream also affects how your test results will be interpreted.

Measuring Cholesterol

A relatively simple blood test can determine the amount of total cholesterol present in a specified amount of blood. This amount is expressed as milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood or mg/dl. Generally, an adult whose level is above 200 mg/dl (regardless of age) should consult with their doctor about ways of lowering total blood cholesterol.

Determining Risk

The following table shows the effects of total cholesterol levels on heart disease risk for various age groups. (Source: National Institutes of Health.)

Under 200 mg/dl Desirable
200-239 mg/dl Borderline High Risk
240+ mg/dl High Risk

Other Considerations

Keep in mind that if your blood cholesterol is elevated, your physician will probably want to run additional tests to confirm the original results as well as to determine the ratio of “good” cholesterol (HDL) to “bad” cholesterol (LDL) in your total cholesterol count. If your HDL level is high, you may be at less risk for heart attack even though your total cholesterol is slightly elevated.

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