PhotoWhat is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in everyone’s body cells and blood.  Your body makes all the cholesterol it needs.  However, we take in additional cholesterol in the foods we eat.

What does cholesterol do?

Cholesterol builds cells and produces hormones, vitamin D and bile acids to help digest fat.


How is it measured?

Cholesterol is measured with a simple blood test, often called a lipid profile. It’s done after fasting (nothing to eat or drink) for 9 to 12 hours, so any fat you recently ate doesn't affect the results.


What do the numbers mean?

This lipid panel will give you four results: LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, and triglycerides.

LDL (low density liproprotein)

  • Known as “bad” cholesterol
  • Builds up on the inside of artery walls
  • When arteries get too narrow this condition is called atherosclerosis
  • Higher LDL cholesterol levels mean higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease

HDL (high-density lipoprotein)

  • Known as "good" cholesterol
  • Helps prevent arteries from becoming clogged by carrying cholesterol from other parts of the body to the liver, which removes it from the body
  • Higher HDL cholesterol levels generally means lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease

Total Cholesterol

  • Is a measure of LDL, HDL and other lipid components


  • When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn't need to use right away into triglycerides
  • If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, you may have high triglycerides
  • High triglycerides may contribute to atherosclerosis, which increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease

It's important to keep your cholesterol numbers within healthy limits. If you have heart disease or are at risk of getting heart disease you need to be more careful of what your cholesterol numbers are. Talk to your healthcare provider to learn what yours should be.

This table explains the general guidelines for cholesterol numbers.

<100 Optimal
100-129 Near Optimal
130-159 Borderline High
160-189 High
> 190 Very High
Total Cholesterol
<200 Desirable
200-239 Borderline High
> 240 High
<40 Low (Greater risk of heart disease)
40-59 Acceptable
> 60 High (Protective against heart disease)
<150 Normal
150-199 Borderline High
200-499 High
> 500 Very High

NOTE: These categories apply to adults that are 20 and older.

Risk Factors

Certain traits, health conditions, and behaviors increase your chance of getting high blood cholesterol. These are called risk factors. Risk factors for high cholesterol include:
  • Cigarette smoking
  • High blood pressure (greater than 140/90, or on high blood pressure medications)
  • Low HDL (less than 40)
  • Family history of premature coronary heart disease (CHD)
    (CHD in male first degree relative less than 55 years old; CHD in female first
    degree relative less than 65 years old)
  • Age (men 45 years old or older; women 55 years old or older)

Steps to take to prevent or control high cholesterol

You can take steps to prevent or control high cholesterol. It's important to choose healthy behaviors and follow the treatment plan prescribed by your healthcare provider.

Some steps include

Eat for heart health Aim for a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, low fat dairy, and whole grains

Avoid drinking too much alcohol Men aim for 2 or fewer drinks a day, Women aim for 1 or fewer drinks a day

Medications Aim to take medications as prescribed by your healthcare provider

Maintain a healthy weight or lose weight Aim to lose weight, if overweight

Get enough exercise Aim for 30 minutes a day at least 5 days a week

Stop smoking or using tobacco Aim to quit

For questions, or for more information please call 651-201-5412.

Updated Tuesday, June 19, 2012 at 11:56AM