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Reading and Interpreting Cholesterol Blood Tests

written by: weborglodge•edited by: lrohner•updated: 5/18/2011

Your cholesterol blood test results gives your doctor a glimpse into your lifestyle and information for making informed decisions regarding your health and cholesterol management.

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    Cholesterol Blood Test

    blood test tubes 

    High cholesterol is a major risk factor for developing atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries. This condition causes the formation of plaque in the inner lining of blood vessels which can impede blood flow. Another concern is the plaque itself and the possibility of it flaking off the blood vessel walls and causing clots.

    Since high cholesterol has no noticeable symptoms, a blood test is necessary to determine if you have a cholesterol issue. If you don't have a history of high cholesterol, your doctor will likely recommend a cholesterol test every five years. If you have issues or are on statin drugs, you can plan on annual testing.

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    Cholesterol Blood Test Results

    Reading a cholesterol blood test requires an understanding of what the numbers mean. Your test will consist of a total cholesterol reading. It will also include your HDL or good cholesterol figure as well as your LDL or bad cholesterol. The test typically includes a measure of your triglycerides as well. Taken as a whole, the blood test provides a great deal of information.

    Ideally, your total cholesterol blood test results will be less than 200 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. Up to 239 mg/dL is considered borderline high. Over 240 mg/dL is high. Your LDL? should be less than 100 mg/dL. Your doctor may set a goal of 70 mg/dL or less if you have risk factors for heart disease such as a family history of cardiovascular issues. If your LDL approaches 159 mg/dL, it is considered borderline high?, with a figure over 159 mg/dL considered high.

    HDL is interpreted differently. Rather than a threshold, the ideal number is a minimum figure. An ideal HDL is 60 mg/dL and above. Below 50 mg/dL is considered poor for women and 40 mg/dL for men. The differences in interpretation have to do with the role each of the types of cholesterol play.

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    Interpreting the Figures

    Total cholesterol and LDL levels present the greatest concern. While cholesterol is necessary for life, too much LDL can cause the plaque formation associated with heart disease risk. HDL, on the other hand, acts in an opposite fashion. It assists the transport of cholesterol to the liver where it can then be metabolized or eliminated. The effect is a reduced risk of atherosclerosis. Taken together, your doctor has a clearer picture of your risk and a course of treatment, if necessary.

    Reading a cholesterol blood test, though simple, can be a lifesaving tool for managing the factors which can increase your risk of coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. By determining your risk, your doctor has the necessary information to guide your lifestyle changes and medical treatment for high cholesterol.

    Photo by Griszka Niewiadomski, stock.xchng

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    Mayo Clinic: Cholesterol Levels: What Numbers Should You Aim For? -

    E. Mills et al. Efficacy and safety of statin treatment for cardiovascular disease: a network meta-analysis of 170,255 patients from 76 randomized trials. QJM, October 2010, [Epub ahead of print].