Cholesterol: What Are Your Numbers?

Understanding cholesterol is the first step in managing your cholesterol levels.

The best way to know your cholesterol level is to have a fasting blood test known as a lipid panel. A lipid panel examines total cholesterol, LDL (low-density lipoprotein), HDL(high-density lipoprotein) and triglyceride levels. These categories are examined below.

Total cholesterol:

  • A measure of the total amount of cholesterol in your blood
  • Based on the HDL, LDL and triglyceride numbers

LDL cholesterol:

  • Majority of the body’s cholesterol
  • Delivers cholesterol to the body
  • Known as “bad” cholesterol because having high levels can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries

HDL cholesterol:

  • Absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver, where cholesterol is removed from the body
  • Known as “good” cholesterol because having high levels can reduce the risk for heart disease and stroke


  • Type of fat found in your blood, which your body uses for energy
  • High levels of triglycerides with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol can increase heart attack and stroke risk

To prepare for your lipid panel, you must “fast” (not eat or drink anything) for at least eight hours before the blood test. You can drink water during the fast. Discuss specific fasting requirements with your doctor or laboratory.

To get an idea of what your results might mean, see the chart below:

Total Cholesterol Level Total Cholesterol Category
Less than 200 mg/dL Desirable
200-239 mg/dL Borderline high
240 mg/dL and above High
LDL (“Bad”) Cholesterol Level LDL Cholesterol Category
Less than 100 mg/dL Optimal
100-129 mg/dL Near optimal/above optimal
130-159 mg/dL Borderline high
160-189 mg/dL High
190 mg/dL and above Very high
HDL (“Good”) Cholesterol Level HDL Cholesterol Category
Less than 40 mg/dL A major risk factor for heart disease
40-59 mg/dL The higher, the better
60 mg/dL and higher Protective against heart disease
Triglycerides Triglycerides Category
Less than 150 mg/dL Normal level
150-199 mg/dL Borderline high
200-499 mg/dL High
500 mg/dL or higher Very high

Speak with your health care provider about your numbers and how best to manage your cholesterol.