You hear a lot about cholesterol — the “good” and the “bad” — but what does it all mean? Should you be concerned if you haven’t had yours checked in a while? A cholesterol test, or lipid panel, shows the levels of good and bad cholesterol, and triglycerides (fat) in your blood. A leading cardiologist in the Bay Area, Dr. Rajesh Sam Suri of West Coast Medicine and Cardiology, explains what a lipids checkup is and when and why you should schedule one.
The higher the better for ‘good cholesterol’
High cholesterol levels aren’t necessarily a bad thing; it just depends on the type of cholesterol you’re talking about. So, to better understand what a lipids test measures, it helps to differentiate the types of cholesterol in your blood.
Good cholesterol refers to the high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) that are linked to a lower risk of heart disease and blood vessel disease. The higher your levels of HDLs, the better it is for your heart because the HDLs help to carry away the bad cholesterol. This keeps your arteries open and your blood flowing freely, so you have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.
The same does not apply to bad cholesterol, or low-density lipoproteins (LDLs). When there are too many LDLs in your blood, it causes fatty deposits to build up in your arteries. These fatty deposits, or plaques, are a waxy substance that can collect on the walls of your arteries, clogging them and restricting blood flow, a condition called atherosclerosis.
When it comes to understanding your cholesterol levels, it’s easy to remember that high-density lipoproteins should be the higher number, and low-density lipoproteins should be the lower number.
Triglycerides count, too
A complete lipids blood test also measures the number of triglycerides in your blood. Triglycerides are calories that have been converted into fat cells. When you eat more calories than your body needs, you automatically convert the extra ones into triglycerides to be stored as fat cells.
High levels of triglycerides are usually linked to being overweight, leading a sedentary lifestyle, or having diabetes and elevated blood sugar levels.
Good levels mean good health
You want the results of your lipid panel to be within the healthy range for HDLs, LDLs, and triglycerides. High-density lipoproteins should measure a value greater than 40 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) for optimal health.
Low-density lipoproteins should measure less than 70 mg/dL if you’re at a very high risk of heart diseases, less than 100 mg/dL for high-risk adults, and less than 130 mg/dL for individuals with a low risk of developing coronary artery disease. Ideally, your triglycerides should be lower than 150 mg/dL.
These three numbers add up to your total cholesterol (TC) level, so most adults should be between 100-199 mg/dL as their goal.
If you’re over 18, you need a lipids checkup
According to the Mayo Clinic, if you’re at least 18, and you’re not considered to have a high risk of developing heart disease because of heredity, diabetes, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, or being overweight, you should get a lipids checkup every five years. If you do belong in any of these risk categories, however, you may need a lipids test more often since these factors put you at a higher risk for developing heart disease.
Additionally, once you hit age 45 as a man, or 55 as a woman, you should have your cholesterol checked yearly, or as your doctor recommends, based on your overall health and risk factors for heart disease and stroke. High cholesterol may not present any symptoms until you have a heart attack or stroke, so it’s important to get a regularly scheduled lipids checkup before a more serious, or even life-threatening, condition occurs.
If you’re concerned about your HDLs, LDLs, and TC, call either of West Coast Medicine’s locations in Fremont and Hayward, California to schedule your lipids checkup. Or, select the next available appointment using the online booking tool.