High Cholesterol | Overview

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What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy substance your body uses to protect nerves, make cell tissues and produce certain hormones. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs. Your body also gets cholesterol directly from the food you eat (such as eggs, meats and dairy products). Too much cholesterol can have negative impacts on your health.

What is the difference between “good” cholesterol and “bad” cholesterol?

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is often called “bad” cholesterol. It delivers cholesterol to the body. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is often called “good” cholesterol. It removes cholesterol from the bloodstream.

This explains why too much LDL cholesterol is bad for the body, and why a high level of HDL cholesterol is good. For example, if your total cholesterol level is high because of a high LDL level, you may be at higher risk of heart disease or stroke. But, if your total cholesterol level is high only because of a high HDL level, you're probably not at higher risk.

Triglycerides are another type of fat in your blood. When you eat more calories than your body can use, it turns the extra calories into triglycerides. When you change your lifestyle to improve your cholesterol levels, you want to lower LDL, raise HDL and lower triglycerides.

What should my cholesterol levels be?

Total cholesterol level

  • Less than 200 is best.
  • 200 to 239 is borderline high.
  • 240 or more means you're at increased risk for heart disease.

LDL cholesterol levels

  • Below 100 is ideal for people who have a higher risk of heart disease.
  • 100 to 129 is near optimal.
  • 130 to 159 is borderline high.
  • 160 or more means you're at a higher risk for heart disease.

HDL cholesterol levels

  • Less than 40 means you're at higher risk for heart disease.
  • 60 or higher greatly reduces your risk of heart disease.

Triglycerides

  • Less than 150 mg/dL is best

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 11/10
Created: 01/96

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