Cholesterol testing and results
Cholesterol test results; LDL test results; VLDL test results; HDL test results; Coronary risk profile results; Hyperlipidemia-results; Lipid disorder test results; Heart disease - cholesterol results
Some types of cholesterol are considered good and some are considered bad. Different blood tests can be done to measure each type of cholesterol.
Your provider may order only a total cholesterol level as the first test. It measures all types of cholesterol in your blood.
You may also have a lipid (or coronary risk) profile, which includes:
- Total cholesterol
- Low density lipoprotein (LDL cholesterol)
- High density lipoprotein (HDL cholesterol)
- Triglycerides (another type of fat in your blood)
- Very low density lipoprotein (VLDL cholesterol)
Lipoproteins are made of fat and protein. They carry cholesterol, triglycerides, and other fats, called lipids, in the blood to various parts of the body.
Maybe you've been eating fast food more often than you should, or you're not getting your recommended two-and-a-half hours of exercise each week. Or, it could be that you smoke, or your blood pressure is too high. Well, for whatever reason, you may be concerned about your risk of getting heart disease. Well, a few tests can help you learn that risk, so you can start making healthy lifestyle changes to reduce it. A coronary risk profile is a group of blood tests that measure your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Why is it important to know these levels? Because if you have too much of these substances in your blood from eating foods like burgers and French fries, they can clog your arteries. Eventually your arteries can become so clogged that you'll have a heart attack or stroke. Men should have their cholesterol tested by the time they're 35. Women should have it checked by age 45. If you have a condition like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or high blood pressure, have your cholesterol checked now, no matter what your age. To measure your cholesterol, your doctor will give you a blood test. If you're also having your triglyceride level checked, you may be told not to eat or drink anything for 8 to 12 hours before the test. Depending upon your heart risk, the doctor may measure just your total cholesterol level, or your total cholesterol along with your LDL, or bad cholesterol, HDL, or good cholesterol, and triglycerides. If you're of average risk of getting heart disease, your goal is to have total cholesterol of less than 200 milligrams per deciliter, LDL cholesterol lower than 130 milligrams per deciliter, HDL cholesterol higher than 40 milligrams per deciliter if you're a man, or 50 if you're a woman -- the higher the better, and triglycerides of less than 150 also, the lower the better. Although some illnesses, like arthritis, can raise your cholesterol level, generally having high cholesterol means that you're at increased risk for heart disease and stroke. It's a sign you need to work harder to keep your heart healthy. If your cholesterol levels are normal, that's great! That means that you're eating right, you're exercising, and you're taking good care of your health. You don't need to have another cholesterol test for about five years. But if your cholesterol level is high, or you've already got heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes, you'll need to have your cholesterol levels checked more often. Keeping close tabs on your cholesterol and triglyceride levels is one way that you can take charge of your health, and change it for the better.
When Should You Be Tested?
Everyone should have their first screening test by age 35 for men, and age 45 for women. Some guidelines recommend starting at age 20 or even earlier depending on a person's overall health.
You should have a cholesterol test done at an earlier age if you have:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- A strong family history of heart disease
Follow-up testing should be done:
- Every 5 years if your results were normal.
- More often for people with diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, or blood flow problems to the legs or feet.
- As your provider recommends if you are taking medicines to control high cholesterol.
A total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL (5.18 mmol/L) is considered best (lower numbers are better).
You may not need more detailed cholesterol tests if your cholesterol is in this normal range.
LDL (Bad) Cholesterol
LDL cholesterol is sometimes called "bad" cholesterol. LDL can clog your arteries.
You want your LDL to be low. Having too much LDL is linked to heart disease and stroke.
Your LDL is always considered to be too high if it is 190 mg/dL (4.92 mmol/L) or higher.
Levels from 70 to 189 mg/dL (1.81 to 4.90 mmol/L) are most often considered too high if:
- You have diabetes and are between ages 40 to 75
- You have diabetes and a high risk of heart disease
- You have a medium or high risk of heart disease
- You have heart disease, history of a stroke, or poor circulation to your legs
In these circumstances, your provider will often recommend medicine to lower your LDL cholesterol level.
Health care providers have traditionally set a target level for your LDL cholesterol if you are being treated with medicines to lower your cholesterol.
- Some newer guidelines now suggest that providers no longer need to target a specific number for your LDL cholesterol. Higher strength medicines are used for the highest risk patients.
- However, some guidelines still recommend using specific targets.
HDL (Good) Cholesterol
You want your HDL cholesterol to be high. Studies of both men and women have shown that the higher your HDL, the lower your risk of coronary artery disease. This is why HDL is sometimes referred to as "good" cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol levels greater than 40 to 60 mg/dL (1.04 to 1.55 mmol/L) are desired.
VLDL (Bad) Cholesterol
VLDL contains the highest amount of triglycerides. VLDL is considered a type of bad cholesterol, because it helps cholesterol build up on the walls of arteries.
Normal VLDL levels are from 2 to 30 mg/dL (0.05 to .78 mmol/L).
Sometimes, your cholesterol levels may be low enough that your provider will not ask you to change your diet or take any medicines.
American Diabetes Association Professional Practice Committee. Erratum. 10. Cardiovascular disease and risk management: standards of medical care in diabetes-2023. Diabetes Care. 2023;46(Suppl 1):S158-S190. PMID: 36700978
Arnett DK, Blumenthal RS, Albert MA, et al. 2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease: executive summary: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2020;141(16):e773. PMID: 30879339
Fox CS, Golden SH, Anderson C, et al. Update on prevention of cardiovascular disease in adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus in light of recent evidence: A scientific statement from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2015;38(9):1777-803. PMID: 26246459
Gennest J, Mora S, Libby P. Lipoprotein disorders and cardiovascular disease. In: Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Bhatt DL, Solomon SD, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 27.
Grundy SM, Stone NJ, Bailey AL, et al. 2018 AHA/ACC/AACVPR/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/ADA/AGS/APhA/ASPC/NLA/PCNA Guideline on the management of blood cholesterol: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Clinical Practice Guidelines. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2019;73(24):3234-3237. PMID: 30423391
Rohatgi A. Lipid measurement. In: de Lemos JA, Omland T, eds. Chronic Coronary Artery Disease: A Companion to Braunwald's Heart Disease. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 8.
Last reviewed on: 1/1/2023
Reviewed by: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.