High cholesterol is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. In fact, the higher your cholesterol level, the greater your risk for developing heart disease or having a heart attack or stroke.
In observance of National Cholesterol Education Month, the Cooper Heart Institute reminds you to keep your cholesterol levels in check.
The following information is offered to help you understand the importance of cholesterol testing, and how maintaining healthy cholesterol levels can protect your heart and arteries.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, fat-like substance naturally produced by the body. The body needs and uses cholesterol to make hormones, Vitamin D, and substances that help with food digestion. Cholesterol also is in some of the foods we eat. Too much cholesterol in the body, however, can build up in the arteries and narrow them, slowing or blocking blood flow to the heart.
What is meant by “good” and “bad” cholesterol?
Cholesterol travels through the blood in different types of bundles called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein – LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, delivers cholesterol to the body. High-density lipoprotein – HDL, the so-called good cholesterol, removes cholesterol from the bloodstream. This explains why too much LDL cholesterol is bad for the body and why a high level of HDL cholesterol is good. The balance between the types of cholesterol tells you what your cholesterol level means. For example, if your total cholesterol level is high because of a high LDL level, you may be at higher risk of heart disease or stroke. If your total level is high only because of a high HDL level, you’re probably not at higher risk.
When and how should cholesterol levels be tested?
Cholesterol levels should be measured at least once every five years for everyone over the age of 20. (Tests should be done more regularly for people with higher risk for heart disease [see below].)
The test that is frequently used to measure cholesterol levels is called a lipoprotein profile – a simple blood test that requires fasting for eight hours before the test. A lipoprotein profile also measures triglycerides. Triglycerides are fats carried in the blood from the food we eat. A high triglyceride level has been linked to coronary artery disease in some people. Experts recommend that men age 35 and older and women age 45 and older be routinely screened for lipid disorders (high blood cholesterol and triglycerides).
What are the healthy and unhealthy lipoprotein levels?
Total cholesterol levels:
- Less than 200 is best.
- 200 to 239 is borderline high.
- 240 or more means you are at increased risk for heart disease.
LDL cholesterol levels:
- Below 100 is ideal for people who have a higher risk of heart disease. Higher risks include obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, family history of heart disease, smoking, etc. Some experts recommend that people with heart disease or blood vessel disease should try to get their LDL cholesterol below 70.
- 100 to 129 is near optimal.
- 130 to 159 is borderline high.
- 160 or more means you are at a higher risk for heart disease.
HDL cholesterol levels:
- 60 or higher greatly reduces your risk of heart disease.
- Less than 40 means you are at higher risk for heart disease.
- Less than 150 is normal.
- 150 to 199 is borderline high.
- 200 to 499 is high.
- 500 or higher is very high.
Remember, a lipid profile can help determine your risk for heart disease and guide you and your doctor in deciding what treatment might be best for you if your levels are borderline or high. Depending on your results and other risk factors, treatment options can involve lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, and/or lipid-lowering medications and therapies.
Diagnosing and treating complex lipid disorders
The Cooper Heart Institute offers special expertise in diagnosing and treating complex lipid disorders. Cooper cardiologist Perry J. Weinstock, MD, Head of the Division of Cardiovascular Disease and Director of Clinical Cardiology at Cooper University Hospital, is one of only a few hundred physicians nationwide certified by the American Board of Clinical Lipidology (ABCL). He also is distinguished as an ABCL Diplomate, a status recognizing his successful completion of advanced education and rigorous examination in the field of clinical lipidology. Dr. Weinstock serves on the Board of the American Heart Association and is an officer on the Board of Directors of the Northeast Lipid Association. He also is a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Clinical Lipidology.
Read more about cholesterol and the advanced lipid testing available at the Cooper Heart Institute from these eHealth Connection articles on this topic:
- “Concerned About Cholesterol? Learn How Advanced Screening Can Determine Whether You Need Treatment,” May 19, 2009
- “Understanding Cholesterol and Blood Lipid Profiles,” February 1, 2008