Diagnosing High Cholesterol
Unfortunately, most people aren’t even aware they have atherosclerosis until they have a heart attack or stroke. It is possible to have up to 80 percent closure of the arteries without ever feeling a single symptom!
Most people begin to develop cholesterol driven atherosclerosis as children and it’s unusual if you find an adult in the United States who does not have some degree of atherosclerosis.
Diagnosing cholesterol levels require a simple blood test to determine the levels of LDL and HDL. Cholesterol tests can be tricky, however. Simple screening that is done without “fasting,” measures only the total cholesterol and the HDL, the “good” cholesterol. It will give you a ballpark figure, but far from accurate.
The complete test is called a “lipid profile,” and even that can vary from test to test. This test will measure total cholesterol, HDL, LDL and triglycerides.
For truly accurate numbers, you should not eat, or drink anything other than water for 12 hours before testing. Vigorous exercise should be avoided for 24 hours before testing and you need to make certain that whoever tests you is made aware of any medications you may be taking as they will also affect the results.
Okay, now that you have accurate numbers, what do they mean? Before we discuss the numbers and their meanings, we need to clarify some terminology.
Dietary cholesterol means the cholesterol that you eat. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 300 milligram per day. Most food labels in the United States list cholesterol. The three terms, blood cholesterol, serum cholesterol and total cholesterol mean the same thing – the total cholesterol in your body. This is what is measured when you have a cholesterol test.
Your test results will come in with three numbers:
1. HDL Cholesterol
2. LDL Cholesterol
3. Total Cholesterol
Ideal Cholesterol Readings
For total cholesterol the National Cholesterol Education Program classifies levels below 200 milligrams/dl (milligrams per deciliter) as “desirable.” A level between 200 and 239 is “borderline high.” Anything over 240 is “high.”
Triglyceride levels over 400 milligrams/dl are considered “high” and levels over 1,000 milligrams/dl are considered “very high.”
For LDL, the desirable level is less than 130 milligrams/dl. The “borderline high” level is 130 to 159. the “high risk” level is 160 and above.
Higher is better for HDL. For HDL, the numbers are lower because there is less HDL in the blood. Anything lower than 35 milligrams/dl is considered “high risk.” If your HDL is very high, say over 60, your risk of heart disease is reduced.
The LDL, however, is the “bad” cholesterol and the most important factor in predicting heart attack. For LDL, lower is better preferably less than 160. It’s best to keep the level around 130.