What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that can build up in the walls of your arteries. Your body uses cholesterol to digest foods, produce Vitamin D, and to make hormones. Your body makes its own cholesterol, but you can also get cholesterol from the foods you eat. Too much cholesterol can clog your arteries and damage your heart.
Learn about your heart and blood circulation in our health encyclopedia.
What is a Cholesterol Test?
A cholesterol test is a blood test that measures the amount of cholesterol in your blood.
To prepare for your cholesterol test, do not eat or drink anything except water for 9-12 hours before your test. Ask your doctor if you should continue to take your medications during the time period when you are fasting.
In order to test cholesterol, blood will be drawn from a vein in your arm or your hand. You will feel a stinging sensation when the needle is inserted and the blood is drawn into the collection tube.
When to Get a Cholesterol Test
Cholesterol screenings normally begin between the ages of 20 and 35 in men and 20 and 45 in women. If results are normal and you do not have other high cholesterol risk factors (diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, smoking, obesity, family history of heart disease, age), follow-up screening is usually done every 5 years. If you do have high cholesterol, or risk factors for high cholesterol, follow-up cholesterol testing may be done more frequently.
Total Cholesterol Levels
Total cholesterol levels give your doctor an overall picture of how much cholesterol is in your blood:
- Desirable cholesterol level: Less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood)
- Borderline high cholesterol: 200-239 mg/dL
- High cholesterol: 240 or higher mg/dL
Although a total cholesterol level over 200 may mean you’re at an increased risk of heart disease, a breakdown of cholesterol levels (lipid profile) may give your doctor a better idea of your risk. A lipid profile will measure your LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol), your HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol), and your triglycerides (amount of fat in the blood).
Normal and Abnormal LDL levels:
- Optimal: Less than 100
- Near optimal: 100-129
- Borderline high: 130-159
- High: 160-189
- Very high: 190 or higher
Normal and Abnormal HDL levels:
- Optimal: 60 and above
- High risk: Less than 40 in men and 50 in women
Normal and Abnormal Triglyceride levels:
- Normal: Less than 150
- Borderline: 150-199
- High: 200-499
- Very high: 500 or higher
Treatments for High Cholesterol
In many cases, high cholesterol treatment may include lifestyle changes, such as exercising more and eating a healthier diet that is low in fat. Your doctor may also prescribe cholesterol-lowering medications (statins).
At Wake Forest Baptist Health, you’ll have access to a team of health care professionals who can help you to control your cholesterol. Your team may include heart doctors (cardiologists), nurse specialists, nutritionists and others.
Learn more about the Heart and Vascular Center at Wake Forest Baptist Health.