What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?

Updated:Feb 8,2013
High blood cholesterol signals a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. That’s why it’s important to have your cholesterol levels checked regularly and discuss them with your doctor. A “lipoprotein profile” is a test to find out your blood cholesterol numbers. It gives information about total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and HDL (“good”) cholesterol, as well as triglycerides (blood fats).

What should my total cholesterol level be?

Total Blood Cholesterol Levels:

Less than 200 mg/dL = Desirable (lower risk)
200 to 239 mg/dL = Borderline high (higher risk)
240 mg/dL and above = High blood cholesterol (more than twice the risk as desirable level)

What should my HDL and LDL cholesterol levels be?

HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. HDL is “good” cholesterol because it seems to lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. That means that — unlike other cholesterol levels — the higher your HDL cholesterol, the better. You can raise your HDL cholesterol by quitting smoking, losing excess weight and being more physically active.

HDL Cholesterol Levels:

Less than 40 mg/dL for men = Low HDL (higher risk)
Less than 50 mg/dL for women = Low HDL (higher risk)
40 to 59 mg/dL = The higher, the better
60 mg/dL and above = High HDL (lower risk)

LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. This is the main carrier of harmful cholesterol in your blood. A high level of LDL cholesterol means there’s a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

LDL Cholesterol Levels:

Less than 70 mg/dL = Optional goal if you’re at very high risk of a heart attack or death from heart attack.
Less than 100 mg/dL = Optimal for people with heart disease or diabetes
100 to 129 mg/dL = Near or above optimal
130 to 159 mg/dL = Borderline high
160 to 189 mg/dL = High
190 mg/dL and above = Very High

What should my triglyceride level be?

Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in your body. They’re also a major energy source. They come from food, and your body also makes them. As people get older, gain excess weight or both, their triglyceride and cholesterol levels tend to rise. Many people who have heart disease or diabetes have high fasting triglyceride levels. Some studies have shown that people with above-normal fasting triglyceride levels (150 mg/dL or higher) have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

Triglyceride Levels:

Less than 150 mg/dL = Normal
150 to 199 mg/dL = Borderline High
200 to 499 mg/dL = High
500 mg/dL and above = Very High

My Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels

Use the chart below to keep track of your cholesterol and triglyceride levels each time you have a test. Make sure you discuss these numbers with your doctor.

                                                            My Goal          1st Visit                        2nd Visit                          3rd Visit
Total blood cholesterol level
HDL cholesterol level
LDL cholesterol level
Triglyceride level

How can I learn more?
  1. Talk to your doctor, nurse or other healthcare professionals. If you have heart disease or have had a stroke, members of your family also may be at higher risk. It’s very important for them to make changes now to lower their risk.
  2. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit heart.org to learn more about heart disease.
  3. For information on stroke, call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653) or visit us online at StrokeAssociation.org.
We have many other fact sheets and educational booklets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit heart.org/answersbyheart to learn more.

Knowledge is power, so Learn and Live!

Do you have questions or comments for your doctor or nurse?

Take a few minutes to write your own questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider. For example:

What about other fats?

How often should I have my levels checked?

©2012, American Heart Association

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

Heart-related Conditions
What is Angina?
What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
How Can I Lower High Cholesterol?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
What Is Diabetes and How Can I Manage It?
How Can I Live With Heart Failure?
What Is Heart Failure?
What Is a Heart Attack?
How Will I Recover From My Heart Attack?
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack?
What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Rehabilitation
Stroke Family Caregivers
How Should I Care for Myself as a Caregiver?

Treatment, Tests and Procedures
What is Cholesterol-Lowering Medicine?
What is High Blood Pressure Medicine?
What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator?
What Is a Pacemaker?
What Is Coronary Angioplasty?
What is a Stent?
What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
What is a Coronary Angiogram?
How Can I Recover From Heart Surgery?
What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

Healthy Lifestyle and Risk Reduction
How Can I Manage My Weight?
How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?
Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Read "Nutrition Facts" Labels?
How Can I Quit Smoking?
How Can I Manage Stress?
How Can I Make My Lifestyle Healthier?
How Can I Monitor My Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Weight?