Cholesterol can be confusing, especially when you’re trying to make sense of your cholesterol test results. Dr. Ahmed Soliman, a cardiologist with Houston Methodist Hospital, explains what you need to know about cholesterol and why it matters for your health.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a soft, waxy, fat-like substance that can clog arteries and increase risk for heart disease and heart attack. Cholesterol is produced by the liver and is essential for the body, but it becomes harmful when levels are too high.
When should I get a cholesterol test?
Everyone should have a cholesterol test at least once after age 21. Based on your age and risk factors, your doctor will determine how frequently you should be tested.
Do I need to fast before a cholesterol test?
Fasting used to be the norm, but that’s not always the case today. Check with your doctor and follow instructions about fasting before your test.
What do my cholesterol numbers mean?
Your results from a cholesterol test typically include numbers for total blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Even if you’re in the normal range for total blood cholesterol, it’s possible to have high LDL, which puts you at risk for heart disease. Review these numbers with your doctor so you understand what they mean for your health.
What can I do to lower my cholesterol?
Eat a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fat and high in fiber. Gradually reduce red meat consumption to less than one serving per week. Swap in vegetarian or Mediterranean-inspired meals, including fish, nuts, fruits and vegetables. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week and quit smoking. In some cases, medication is needed to help lower cholesterol levels.
Get Smart About Cholesterol
LDL cholesterol is known as the “bad” cholesterol because it is deposited in artery walls and causes plaque buildup. Normal level: Less than 100 mg/dL.
HDL cholesterol is called “good” because it helps to remove some cholesterol from your system. Normal level: More than 40 mg/dL.
Triglycerides are a type of fat that binds with protein in the bloodstream to form LDL cholesterol. Normal level: Less than 150 mg/dL.
Total blood cholesterol is the overall level of cholesterol, including LDL, HDL and triglycerides. Normal level: Less than200 mg/dL.
Do You Need a Heart Screening? If you have high cholesterol or other risk factors, visit houstonmethodist.org/heart-scans for more information and to schedule a heart and vascular screening.