Three generations
Cholesterol is a waxy substance made naturally in the body. Your body needs some cholesterol and can make all it needs. Problems arise when your body makes too much cholesterol or you get too much from food. Extra cholesterol can lead to blocked arteries which can lead to a heart attack.
What is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in the walls of cells in all parts of the body, from the nervous system to the liver to the heart. The body uses cholesterol to make hormones, bile acids, vitamin D, and other substances.

Cholesterol can't dissolve in the blood. It has to be transported to and from the cells by carriers called lipoproteins. Low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, is known as "bad" cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein, or HDL, is known as "good" cholesterol. These two types of lipids, along with triglycerides and Lp(a) cholesterol, make up your total cholesterol count, which can be determined through a blood test.

What is LDL cholesterol?
LDL cholesterol is often called the “bad cholesterol”.  This carries most of the cholesterol in the blood and is the main source of buildup and blockage in the arteries of the heart that cause heart attacks.  An LDL level of less than 100 mg/dL is considered optimal.  Reducing LDL cholesterol is the main goal of cholesterol-lowering treatment.

What is HDL cholesterol?
HDL cholesterol is often referred to as the “good cholesterol”.  It helps keep cholesterol from building up in the walls of the arteries.  An HDL reading of 60 mg/dL or greater lowers your risk for heart disease.  You can raise your HDL level by quitting smoking, losing excess weight, and by being more active.

How is cholesterol tested?
A small sample of blood will be drawn from your arm. If your doctor has ordered other tests to be run at the same time as your cholesterol test, all the samples will usually be taken at the same time. Your blood sample is then analyzed by a laboratory.

Your doctor will tell you if you should fast (avoid consuming food, beverages and medications, usually for nine to 12 hours) before your blood test. If you aren't fasting when the blood sample is drawn, only the values for total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol will be usable. That's because the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol level and triglycerides can be affected by what you've recently consumed.

Your test report will show your cholesterol level in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). Your doctor must interpret your cholesterol numbers based on other risk factors such as age, family history, smoking, and high blood pressure.

Your Total Blood (or Serum) Cholesterol Level

Desirable level that puts you at lower risk for coronary heart disease. A cholesterol level of 200 mg/dL or higher raises your risk.
Borderline high
High blood cholesterol. A person with this level has more than twice the risk of coronary heart disease as someone whose cholesterol is below 200 mg/dL.
For additional information about HDL, LDL, and triglyceride levels, please go to the American Heart Association’s website.  

What affects cholesterol levels?
Risk factors you CAN change:

  • Lifestyle
    • Eat a heart-healthy diet
    • Engage in regular physical activity
    • Stop smoking

Risk factors you CANNOT change:

  • Family History
    • You are at higher risk for high blood cholesterol and heart disease if someone in your immediate family (parent, brother or sister) has high blood cholesterol.
  • Age
    • As you age, your cholesterol increases naturally.
  • Gender
    • As women age, their LDL levels tend to rise.