How is Cholesterol Measured?

Cholesterol gets a bad rap, but the truth is that your body needs the right amounts of cholesterol to work optimally. The problem with cholesterol arises when you have too much or too little of the different types. But how are levels measured and what do they mean? 

At Integrative Primary Care, our skilled physicians, Syed Farhat Zaidi, MD, and Saba Jafri, MD, help patients in Houston understand and manage their cholesterol levels. In this blog, Dr. Zaidi and Dr. Jafri explain what you need to know about your cholesterol. 

How is cholesterol measured?

Because high cholesterol doesn’t cause obvious outward signs or symptoms, it's important to have your cholesterol checked. Most healthy adults should have their cholesterol levels evaluated every 4-6 years. Patients with a higher risk or a family history of high cholesterol may need their cholesterol levels checked more frequently.

A blood test is the only way to accurately measure your cholesterol levels. This test, called a “lipid profile,” requires you to fast for 8-12 hours before your blood is drawn. Once your provider takes a blood sample, a laboratory evaluates the different elements that make up your total cholesterol. 

What do the different cholesterol numbers mean?

Your lipid profile tells you how much LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol, triglycerides (a type of fat), and total cholesterol (based on the LDL, HDL, and triglyceride numbers) is in your blood in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL).

Here’s a closer look at what each of these numbers means:

Understanding LDL cholesterol

While it’s frequently referred to as “bad” cholesterol, LDL cholesterol is needed to keep your body functioning. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL) carry most of the cholesterol in your body to the different systems and cells that need it. 

The problem with LDL cholesterol arises when you have more than your body can use. Excess LDL cholesterol can build up on the walls of your arteries, thus narrowing the passageways and increasing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

You want your LDL cholesterol level to be less than 100 mg/dL. 

You risk elevating your LDL cholesterol levels by eating an animal-based diet high in trans and saturated fats, smoking, being overweight or obese, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and consuming too much processed foods.

Understanding HDL cholesterol

HDL cholesterol is referred to as “good” cholesterol, because it helps lower the amount of LDL cholesterol in your blood. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) transport excess LDL to your liver, where it’s processed as a waste product. 

Your HDL cholesterol level should be greater than or equal to 60 mg/dL.

Many Americans have HDL levels well below the recommended numbers due to the same poor diet that contributes to high LDL levels. You can Improve your HDL levels by avoiding processed foods, reducing consumption of animal products, and eating a healthy diet based on vegetables, lean proteins, fruits, and whole grains.  

Understanding triglycerides

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. Your body uses this fat as an energy source. Any triglycerides you don’t burn off are stored for later use. A high presence of triglycerides increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

A good triglycerides target number is less than 150 mg/dL. 

If your triglyceride levels are higher than they should be, then exercising, losing weight, making the same dietary changes recommended for improving HDL and LDL numbers, and cutting out alcohol may help lower your numbers. 

Understanding total cholesterol

Your total cholesterol is a calculation made using the above numbers and is used by your provider to evaluate your risk for heart disease. Your provider also considers the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol in your system as part of the risk assessment for heart disease.  

Your total cholesterol should be less than 200 mg/dL.  

What if my cholesterol numbers aren’t where they should be?

While a cholesterol test is important, the numbers it reveals are only part of the overall picture for your health. Your Integrative Primary Care provider looks at the results of your cholesterol test as well as your health history, family history, and results from a physical exam to create a customized treatment plan.   

If your cholesterol numbers aren’t where they should be, Dr. Zaidi or Dr. Jafri can work with you to make lifestyle changes to positively impact your cholesterol levels. In some cases, your provider may recommend medications to help you manage your cholesterol. 

To learn more about cholesterol or to schedule an appointment to have your numbers checked, book an appointment online or over the phone with Integrative Primary Care today.

You Might Also Enjoy...

Treatment Options for Allergies

If you have allergies, you know the negative impact they can have on your quality of life. Learn what you need to know about allergies and the different treatment options that are available, so you can find relief from your symptoms.

Common Causes of Diabetes

Are you concerned about developing diabetes? With millions of Americans struggling with diabetes and prediabetes, you’re not alone. Take a look at some of the causes of this common disease.

8 Causes of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure affects more than 108 million Americans and has multiple causes. Learn more about the factors that can increase your risk for developing this common health condition.

Do You Have These Symptoms of the Flu?

This year with COVID-19, it’s more important than ever to understand the symptoms of the flu. Keep reading to learn what signifies the flu and when your symptoms could indicate another viral infection.