Understanding Your Cholesterol Readings

Understanding Your Cholesterol Readings

According to the CDC, roughly 38% of American adults have high cholesterol, placing them at increased risk for debilitating and even life-threatening medical problems. Because high cholesterol doesn’t cause any symptoms on its own, routine cholesterol screenings play a critical role in identifying the problem as early as possible.

At Primary Care Associates, our medical team recommends regular cholesterol screenings for all adults, along with cholesterol management programs aimed at reducing your risk of serious complications. If you’ve had your cholesterol levels checked recently, here’s how to interpret your results.

Cholesterol 101

Cholesterol is a waxy fat that plays a critical role in keeping your cells and organs healthy. It also helps your body make vitamin D.

Your liver produces all the cholesterol your body needs from the foods you eat. If you have too much cholesterol, the excess cholesterol can collect inside your arteries, forming sticky plaques that stick to the artery walls.

As the plaques build up, the arteries get narrower and stiffer, interfering with normal blood flow. This condition is called atherosclerosis, and it’s a significant cause of heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. Recent research shows high cholesterol is also linked with some kinds of dementia.

Good vs. bad cholesterol

Traditionally, LDL is considered “bad” cholesterol because it’s the type that sticks to your arteries and causes circulation problems and other health issues. HDL is called “good” cholesterol because it carries away excess LDL to help keep your vessels healthy.

The fact is, your body needs both types of cholesterol to function normally. The key is keeping both HDL and LDL in balance.


Cholesterol screenings also measure your level of triglycerides. Triglycerides are another type of fat that’s found in your blood. 

When you eat, your body converts the calories it needs into glucose and other components to fuel your cells and perform other functions. Calories it can’t use right away are converted into triglycerides. 

Triglycerides are stored in your fat cells until your body needs to use them. Hormones release triglycerides on an as-needed basis to help fuel your metabolism.

Making sense of cholesterol numbers

Cholesterol screenings use a sample of your blood to measure the levels of lipids in your blood. The results are given in a series of (usually) four numbers. These numbers represent your total cholesterol and your levels of HDL, LDL, and triglycerides.

According to the CDC, the following numbers represent ideal levels of cholesterol and triglycerides for healthy adults:

These numbers can vary for adults with risk factors and children.

These numbers are basic guidelines for healthy adults with no additional risk factors for heart attack and stroke. If you have one or more risk factors, what’s considered high or borderline high can vary. The numbers are also different for kids.

Cholesterol and your health

Cholesterol screenings give your doctor important information about your risks for medical problems like heart attacks, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Still, cholesterol readings alone aren’t enough to give a complete picture of your health or to predict whether or not you’ll develop one of these medical problems.

To determine your overall risk, your doctor will use your cholesterol readings in combination with other factors, like:

Based on all these factors, your doctor will be able to determine your overall risk profile and recommend a strategy to reduce your risks.

Managing your cholesterol levels

Our team will recommend a treatment plan based on your individual risk factors if you have high cholesterol. Most plans include a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, like:

Regular cholesterol screenings can help you stay healthy as you get older. To learn more about how we can help you manage your cholesterol, book an appointment online or over the phone at our offices in Frederick or Clarksburg, Maryland, today.

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