Cholesterol plays a vital role in the function of the nervous system, but high levels cause damage deep inside the body. Too much cholesterol may lead to a buildup of plaque inside the arteries, which is a risk factor for a heart attack or stroke.
While without any symptoms in the beginning, high cholesterol can be uncovered by regular screening. It is recommended that everyone over the age of 20 should have their cholesterol levels checked once every four to six years.
Before undergoing the cholesterol blood test, one is required to refrain from eating or drinking for a period of nine to 12 hours. This fasting is necessary to get an accurate reading of LDL cholesterol.
The screening results will show information about total cholesterol, HDL and LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels. It is important to understand that the results themselves are not enough to predict your risk of heart problems; it is necessary to evaluate the results with respect to age, blood pressure, smoking status, and family predisposition to heart disease and high cholesterol.
Cholesterol is divided into "good" HDL cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol. HDL and LDL are actually the transporters of cholesterol in the blood, called lipoproteins.
HDL means “high-density lipoprotein” - this is the "good" cholesterol that helps keep cholesterol away from your arteries and removes excess arterial plaque, which may help prevent heart disease.
LDL stands for “low-density-lipoprotein” – this is the "bad" cholesterol that may build up in your arteries, forming plaque that narrows your arteries and makes it difficult for blood to get to your heart. The fact is that LDL cholesterol is only dangerous when it becomes oxidized.
- Optimal: less than 100 mg/dL
- Near-optimal: 100 to 129 mg/dL
- Borderline high: 130 to 159 mg/dL
- High: 160 to 189 mg/dL
- Very high: 190 mg/dL and above
- Low: less than 40 mg/dL
- High: 60 mg/dL or above
- Desirable: less than 200 mg/dL
- Borderline high: 200 to 239 mg/dL
- High: 240 mg/dL or above
Total cholesterol measures the combination of LDL, HDL, and VLDL (very low density lipoprotein – a precursor of LDL). A total cholesterol score lower than 200 is considered healthy in most cases but, ideally, the total cholesterol score should be below 170 in people under the age of 19.
Keep in mind that having high cholesterol numbers does not equate to having heart disease, and having normal cholesterol numbers does not necessarily mean there's no risk.