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Understanding Your Cholesterol Numbers

Clear blood vessels for easy blood flow
Blood flows easily when blood vessels are clear.

Cholesterol buildup lessens blood flow
Less blood flows when cholesterol builds up in the walls of the blood vessels.

The higher your blood cholesterol, the greater your risk for heart attack, also known as acute myocardial infarction, or AMI, or stroke. That’s why you need to know your cholesterol level. If it’s high, you can take steps to bring it down. Eating the right foods and getting enough exercise can help. Some people also need medication to control their cholesterol. Your health care provider can help you get started on a plan to control your cholesterol.

Checking Your Cholesterol

Your cholesterol is checked with a simple blood test. The results tell you how much cholesterol you have in your blood. Get checked as often as your health care provider suggests. As you work to lower your cholesterol, your numbers will change slowly. But they will change. Be patient and stay on track. Discuss your numbers with your health care provider. 

Your Total Cholesterol Number

A blood test will give you a number for the total amount of cholesterol in your blood. The higher this number, the more likely it is that cholesterol will build up in your blood vessels. Even if your cholesterol is just slightly high, you are at increased risk for health problems.

My total cholesterol is: ________________

Your Lipid Numbers

Total cholesterol is just 1 part of the story. Cholesterol is made up of different kinds of fats, or “lipids.” If your total cholesterol is high, knowing your lipid profile is important. The 2 most important lipids are HDL and LDL. Lipids are checked during a “fasting” blood test (you don’t eat for a certain amount of time before the test is done). And along with cholesterol, triglyceride (another type of fat) can also lead to blocked arteries. So, knowing your HDL, LDL, and triglyceride numbers as well as your total cholesterol gives you a more complete picture of your cholesterol level:

  • HDL is called the “good” cholesterol. It moves out of the bloodstream and does not block your blood vessels. HDL levels are affected by how much you exercise and what you eat.

    My HDL cholesterol is: ________________

  • LDL is called the “bad” cholesterol. This is because it can stick to your artery walls and block blood flow. LDL levels are most affected by what you eat.

    My LDL cholesterol is: ________________

  • Triglyceride is a type of fat the body uses to store energy. Too much triglyceride can increase your risk for heart disease. Triglyceride levels should be under 150.

    My triglyceride is:  ________________

Online Medical Reviewer: Foster, Sara, RN, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 3/6/2014
© 2000-2014 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.