Your doctor can diagnose high cholesterol with a simple blood test called a fasting lipid or lipoprotein profile.

There are four numbers that you and your doctor should be concerned about when determining whether or not you have high cholesterol.

Total Blood or Serum Cholesterol

This is the sum of your HDL and LDL cholesterol scores and is generally a good indicator of whether you’re at risk for heart disease.

  • Optimal: Less than 200 mg/dL   
  • Borderline high: 200-239 mg/dL               
  • High: 240 mg/dL or higher

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL)

High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) is considered the “good” cholesterol because it helps keep the arteries clear of the clogging “bad” LDL cholesterol. In most people, high HDL helps protect against heart disease. Low levels of HDL are associated with a greater risk of heart disease. Therefore, the higher your HDL score is, the better. If your HDL falls in the “low” range, you are considered a major risk for heart disease.

  • Low: less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women
  • Normal: above 45 mg/dL for men and above 55 mg/dL for women
  • Optimal: 60 mg/dL and above can lower your risk of heart disease

Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL)

A high level of “bad” LDL cholesterol can clog the arteries and is a major risk factor for heart disease. Keeping your LDL as low as possible is a good way to protect your health.

  • Optimal: Less than 100 mg/dL
  • Normal/Near Optimal: 100-129 mg/dL
  • Borderline High: 130-159 mg/dL
  • High: 160-189 mg/dL
  • Very High: 190 mg/dL and above

People with heart disease and those who are at very high risk of heart disease (such as those with metabolic syndrome) need to keep their LDL even lower than the optimal score (less than 70 mg/dL is recommended).

People with diabetes or multiple risk factors for heart disease (such as smoking or having low HDL levels) should aim for an LDL reading within the optimal category.

It is important to consult your physician about where your ideal LDL levels should be.

Triglycerides

Triglycerides are another type of fat found in the bloodstream. A high level of triglycerides is associated with a greater risk of heart disease. When it comes to your test results, the lower the number, the better.

  • Normal: less than 150 mg/dL
  • Borderline High: 150-199 mg/dL
  • High: 200-499 mg/dL
  • Very High: 500 mg/dL and above