Thursday, September 15, 2011

What do all these numbers mean?

     If you’re anything like me, when you’re handed lab results, you have no idea what they mean.  That’s how I felt when I got the results of my cholesterol test.  I asked for the numbers, and when I looked at them, I realized that I had absolutely no clue what I was looking at.  These were my numbers: 

Triglycerides: 171 mg/dL
Total Cholesterol: 248 mg/dL
HDL: 67 mg/dL
LDL: 147 mg/dL

     The first thing I had to figure out was what Triglycerides, HDL, and LDL were.  I visited Lab Tests Online,* which is a peer-reviewed website that describes itself as “A public resource on clinical lab testing from the laboratory professionals who do the testing.”  I found the site to be quite helpful.

Here’s what I found:
Cholesterol is an essential substance in your body.  It’s used to form cell membranes, create hormones, and is necessary for the absorption of nutrients. 
Triglycerides are a form of fat and source of energy for the body.  
HDL, which is short for high-density lipoprotein, is one of the kinds of lipoprotein that carries cholesterol through the blood.  HDL is commonly referred to as “good cholesterol” because it carries the extra cholesterol to your liver, where it’s destroyed.
LDL, which is short for low-density lipoprotein, is another kind of lipoprotein that carries cholesterol though the blood, except that instead of delivering it to liver to be destroyed, it deposits the cholesterol in the blood vessels causing hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and cardiovascular disease.  Hence, LDL has earned the rep of “bad cholesterol.”

     Now that I could understand the terminology, and I knew that my levels were high, I wanted to know what the acceptable levels are.  I’m the kind of person that needs specific goals if I’m going to work toward something.  So here’s the breakdown:

Total Cholesterol (This is a little misleading if you’re thinking HDL plus LDL equals total cholesterol, which I thought, because it doesn’t. It seems as though it’s a fancier calculation than that!)
  •  Less than 200 mg/dL is considered a desirable amount, which means there is a low risk of cardiovascular disease. 
  • 200-239 mg/dL is considered “borderline high” which means there is a moderate risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
  • 240 mg/dL and above is considered “high risk” which means that there is a high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This is where my number is. That’s a little scary.

Triglycerides are like cholesterol and golf- you want low numbers.  High triglycerides are another thing associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Their categories are: 
  • Desirable: Less than 150 mg/dL
  • Borderline high: 150-199 mg/dL
  • High: 200-499 mg/dL
  • Very High: Greater than 500 mg/dL
     In this area, it’s not as bad as it could be for me.  I’m only 21 mg/dL over the desirable level.  Still too high, but I’m glad this isn't in the “very high” range also.

HDL- remember, this is “good cholesterol” so you want high numbers!
  • Less than 40 mg/dL for men, or less than 50 mg/dL for women is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. 
  • A level between 40-50 mg/dL for men and 50-59 mg/dL for women is considered to be associated with an average risk of heart disease. 
  • 60 mg/dL or higher is associated with a less-than-average risk of heart disease.
     Well, that’s one good thing for me.  My HDL is 67 mg/dL!

LDL- this is “bad cholesterol,” so you want that number to be low!
  • Less than 100 mg/dL is optimal. 
  • 100-129 mg/dL is near optimal. 
  • 130-159 mg/dL is borderline high. 
  • 160-189 mg/dL is high. 
  • Greater than 189 mg/dL is very high.
     Okay, I’m in the “borderline high” category on this one.

     Overall, my total cholesterol is “very high,” my Triglycerides and LDL are “borderline high,” and my HDL is high enough to be associated with a less-than-average risk of heart disease.

      Now I feel like I kind of understand cholesterol in general, but I still have questions about what it means for me specifically.  How do two “borderline high” results and one good result end up equaling “very high” cholesterol?  Next stop: my primary care physician to find out.

By Kayla Murphy


  1. Thanks for that information and putting it in normal terms , Thanks