Most people realise that their cholesterol levels do affect their heart health and that at some point having those levels tested should be ticked off their annual to-do list. However, actually making sense of the sometimes rather confusing list of letters and numbers on the average test result sheet can be rather confusing for the layperson. What does HDH mean? Or LDL? You are fairly certain that you have heard that one is good and one is bad, but which is which? And what do triglycerides have to do with anything?
Know Your Cholesterol Levels – The Basics
Although ideally all of this will be explained by your GP the first time your cholesterol levels are tested, understanding just what those letters and numbers mean is basic knowledge that can be very helpful:
HDL Cholesterol (The Good Stuff)
Yes, you were quite correct, there is such a thing as good cholesterol and bad cholesterol and it is HDL that is the good stuff. Therefore, generally, the higher the number listed next to HDL on your test results the better. Low levels of HDL cholesterol increase a person’s risk for heart disease. It is important to note that it is not just a less than optimum diet that can lead to low HDL levels. Smoking, certain medications (especially steroids and beta blockers) and even genetic factors can be a part of the problem as well.
LDL Cholesterol (The Bad Stuff)
So, by process of elimination, you already worked out that LDL cholesterol is the ‘bad one’. Contrary to popular belief you do not have to be considered overweight to have high levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood. In addition to factors like general health and genetics it is what you eat, not how much of it, that can be a big factor in raising LDL levels. A diet that is particularly high in saturated and trans fats raises LDL cholesterol.
Triglyceride is the most common type of fat found in the human body and what is considered a normal or ‘acceptable’ level does depend upon gender and age. A higher level of triglycerides, when combined with either a high level of LDL cholesterol or a low level of HDL cholesterol, is considered to be a potentially significant risk factor for atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries that can eventually lead to stroke or heart attack.
Know Your Cholesterol Levels – Putting It All Together
Your test result will feature a total blood (or serum) cholesterol result. This is calculated using the following formula; HDL + LDL + 20 percent of your triglyceride level. Very generally speaking a number of less than 180 is usually considered to be optimal but that is a very broad generalization.
Your Cholesterol Levels and the Big Picture
The results of your cholesterol testing are just one of the tools and factors that your GP will use to help determine your risk for developing heart disease. It has been many years since doctors have used them as the only factor as they are not. There is also no set way to improve ‘bad results’. Once you Know Your Cholesterol Levels via your test results your GP will help you determine the best diet and lifestyle changes for you. After that, it will be up to you to ‘take charge of your destiny’ and implement them on a daily basis.