HDL too low? LDL too high? And what exactly are triglycerides? If you have ever felt confused by your cholesterol numbers, you aren’t alone. Alacia Tarpley, M.D., a primary care physician at Piedmont Physicians Group board certified in lipidology, breaks down the numbers.
“Cholesterol is an important measure of the circulating fats in your blood,” says Dr. Tarpley. “About 75 percent of those fats come from the liver and 25 percent come from your diet.”
Cholesterol gets a bad rap, but some cholesterol is important for your body to function properly.
“It is used by the body to create cellular membranes and hormones. We need some in our body at all times,” says Dr. Tarpley.
However, when cholesterol is too high, it puts your body at risk for serious diseases.
Your cholesterol test results are important because they indicate if you are at risk for atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque on artery walls.
“You’re only as young as your arteries,” points out Dr. Tarpley.
Testing is especially important because high cholesterol often has no symptoms.
“High cholesterol is a silent entity for the most part until something bad happens, like heart attack or stroke,” she says. “It doesn’t necessarily make you feel bad.”
When you undergo a cholesterol screening, your physician will check your total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL), high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and triglyceride values.
“We look at total cholesterol over HDL ratio,” says Dr. Tarpley. “Ideally, this number is below 3.”
Here’s a more in-depth breakdown of ideal cholesterol values:
Lifestyle changes, like a low-fat diet and regular exercise, can make a big different in lowering cholesterol, but some people need medication to combat high levels.
“Seventy to 80 percent of cholesterol is made by the liver and is more genetically determined, so there are plenty of people who do everything right with lifestyle and diet,” says Dr. Tarpley. “Those people will need medication to control their cholesterol.”
These tactics can help lower your cholesterol:
Talk to your primary care physician about your cholesterol levels – knowing your numbers can save your life.