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The Importance of Understanding a Cholesterol Levels Chart

Whether or not you been diagnosed with heart disease or at risk for certain cardiovascular diseases, it is of utmost importance to understand how to read a cholesterol levels chart – and more importantly, live by it as if it was your bible. While most people only pay attention to their total cholesterol level, it is actually more important to understand all four of the main areas which include your total cholesterol level, LDL cholesterol level, HDL cholesterol level and triglycerides.

How and Why Cholesterol Levels Are Measured

In the United States, cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams per deciliter which is annotated as mg/dL. While it may not be important to be able to visualize how big a deciliter is or that it is simply one-tenth of a liter, it is important to understand that medical science has determined safe levels of cholesterol based on gender and age. Cholesterol is measured with a simple blood test, sometimes referred to as a lipid profile, and a patient’s risk for coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease and/or stroke is measured by these levels. As well, high cholesterol has been linked to other diseases such as diabetes and understandably, high blood pressure.

Total Cholesterol Level

Most often when asked what your cholesterol level is, you will be given one number and that is your total cholesterol level. This number is arrived at by adding the LDL number to your HDL number. Next divide your triglyceride number by five. Take this number and add that to the sum of LDL and HDL and you arrive at your total cholesterol. As a math equation it would look something like this:

(LDL + HDL) + (triglycerides / 5) = Total Cholesterol

In any case, some people consider this to be the most important number to be concerned with but this isn’t really the case at all. Yes, your total cholesterol is important but you may arrive at a good number here while still being at risk because other levels may be off kilter in just the right proportion to give you a good total cholesterol level.

Total Cholesterol Level Classification
Less than 200 mg/dL Desirable
200–239 mg/dL Borderline-high risk
240 mg/ dL and above Very high risk


LDL Cholesterol Level

Although most people will tell you their total cholesterol number when you ask them what their cholesterol level is, your LDL cholesterol level should be of primary concern. LDL stands for low-density lipoproteins and these are the little buggers that clog your arteries and cause all sorts of health related risks including, but not limited to heart attacks and strokes. As LDL collects in your arteries it calcifies and turns to plaque which then builds up and literally blocks blood flow. Ideal levels are listed in the chart below.


LDL Cholesterol Level Classification*
Less than 100 mg/ dL Desirable
100–129 mg/dL Near optimal/above optimal
130–159 mg/dL Borderline high
160–189 mg/dL High risk
190 mg/dL and above Very high risk


HDL Cholesterol Level

Oddly enough, HDL cholesterol is the one level that is measured differently by gender. HDL means high density lipoproteins and these are the good guys. This is the one cholesterol level that is better high than low as this substance actually helps to rid the bloodstream of LDL cholesterol before it has a chance to build up and block blood flow. It does this by transporting LDL through the bloodstream to the liver where it can be cleansed from the body. While safe levels differ between men and women, it is encouraged that either sex have a number greater than 60mg/dL.

HDL Cholesterol Level Classification
Less than 40 mg/dL for men; less than 50 mg/dL for women Major heart disease risk factor
60 mg/dL or higher Gives some protection against heart disease


Triglyceride Level

Even though your triglyceride level is important, not all cholesterol level tests will include triglyceride testing. Triglycerides are one of the major fats which is comprised of fatty acids and glycerol. These levels can be unsafe when they are high and according to current medical understanding, your triglyceride level should be less than 150mg/dL. One thing to be aware of is that it is common for both your triglyceride and LDL levels to be high at the same time if you have a problem with cholesterol levels.


Triglyceride Level Classification
Less than 150 mg/dL Desirable
150–199 mg/dL Borderline-high risk
200–499 mg/dL High risk
500 mg/dL or higher Very high risk


It is recommended that once a person reaches the age of 20, he or she should have a baseline cholesterol level taken and thereafter should have a blood test every five years. Once a man reaches 45 and a woman reaches 55, a lipid profile should be taken annually thereafter even if there have been no problems with cholesterol levels in the past. Learning how to read a cholesterol levels chart and to monitor your cholesterol levels could one day save your life.