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What does my total cholesterol level mean?


Your doctor is likely to tell you that your cholesterol reading is:

  • fine (in the desirable range)
  • borderline high
  • high

If your total cholesterol is in the desirable range, you are at lower risk for heart disease. Unless you have other risk factors, a total cholesterol level of less than 200 mg/dL means your chance of heart attack is relatively low. To keep your risk low, eat a diet low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and stay physically active. Have your total blood cholesterol checked again in 5 years.

If your total cholesterol is borderline high, that means it ranges from 200 to 239 mg/dL. You have increased risk for heart disease. The first step is usually to change your lifestyle to reduce your risk. Work with your doctor to have a healthy diet and increase your physical activity. Also, talk with your doctor about controlling any other risk factors you may have, such as smoking. If your HDL is 40 mg/dL or higher and you have fewer than two risk factors, you should have your total cholesterol checked again in 1 to 2 years.

If your total cholesterol is high, you need to take steps to reduce your risk for heart disease. High-risk levels are those 240 mg/dL or higher. As many as one in five Americans has a total blood cholesterol level this high. Your high cholesterol makes your risk for developing heart disease double the risk for those with a total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL. Work with your doctor to control other risk factors and to have a healthy diet and an increased physical activity level. You may also need medicine to lower your cholesterol.

If your total cholesterol is high, you need to take steps to reduce your risk for heart disease. High-risk levels are those 240 mg/dL or higher. As many as one in five Americans has a total blood cholesterol level this high. Your high cholesterol makes your risk for developing heart disease double the risk for those with a total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL. Work with your doctor to control other risk factors and to have a healthy diet and an increased physical activity level. You may also need medicine to lower your cholesterol.

Although total cholesterol is important, your breakdowns for LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol can give your doctor much more information about your risk for heart disease.


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