Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all the cells of the body.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all the cells of the body.

Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in all the cells of the body. It is a type of fat that is produced by the liver. Cholesterol also comes from animal-derived foods, such as meat and dairy products. It is an essential substance needed by the body for various purposes. Too much cholesterol, however, harms the body and increases the risk of various medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and heart diseases.

Different types of cholesterol exist in the body. Their normal values (measured in milligrams per deciliter or mg/dL) vary according to a person’s age and gender. Important cholesterol values include measuring the total cholesterol, non-HDL (non-high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol.

Based on age and gender, the healthy cholesterol levels are:

Table 1. For People of Age 19 Years or Younger

 

Type of cholesterol

 

Healthy level

 

Total Cholesterol

 

Less than 170 mg/dL

 

Non-HDL

 

Less than 120 mg/dL

 

LDL

 

Less than 100 mg/dL

 

HDL

 

More than 45 mg/dL

 

Table 2. For Men of Age 20 Years or More

Type of cholesterol

Healthy level

Total Cholesterol

125 to 200 mg/dL

Non-HDL

Less than 130 mg/dL

Less than 130 mg/dL

Less than 100 mg/dL

HDL


40 mg/dL or higher

Table 3. For Women of Age 20 Years or More:

Type of cholesterol

Healthy level

Total Cholesterol

125 to 200 mg/dL

Non-HDL

Less than 130 mg/dL

LDL

Less than 100 mg/dL

HDL

50 mg/dL or higher

The test used to measure cholesterol levels is called a lipoprotein panel. The lipoprotein panel also gives the value for triglycerides (TGs). Triglycerides are not a type of cholesterol, but they are as important as most of the fat in the body exists as TGs. A high triglyceride level can increase the risk of diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart diseases, and pancreatitis. Triglycerides are also measured in the same units as cholesterol (milligrams per deciliter or mg/dL). The values or numbers for TGs are classified as:

  • Normal: A triglyceride level of less than 150 mg/dL.
  • Borderline high: A triglyceride level between 150-199 mg/dL.
  • High: A triglyceride level between 200-499 mg/dL.
  • Very high: A triglyceride level of 500 mg/dL or higher.

What is bad cholesterol?

Cholesterol (a type of fat or lipid) moves in the body combined with proteins. This combination of cholesterol and proteins is called lipoproteins. The low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol is called bad cholesterol. High levels of this cholesterol increase risk for heart diseases and stroke.

When you have high levels of LDL cholesterol in the body, the LDL cholesterol can accumulate on the walls of the blood vessels forming a ‘plaque.’ The continuous cholesterol build-up or a plaque narrows the inside of the blood vessels with time. The narrowed blood vessel hampers the blood supply to the concerned organ. Thus, when the plaque is present in the heart, it can cause angina (chest pain) or a heart attack. Plaque build-up in the brain can cause a stroke.

Another type of cholesterol is HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. It is also called “good” cholesterol as it absorbs cholesterol and carries it back to the liver. The liver then removes the cholesterol from the body. HDL cholesterol, thus, can lower your risk for heart diseases and stroke.

How often should I get my cholesterol levels checked?

The frequency of getting your cholesterol levels tested depends on your age, presence of risk factors, and family history like a history of heart diseases, stroke, diabetes, or high cholesterol.

The following provides general recommendations for various age groups.

People who are 19 years of age or younger should:

  • Get the first test done between ages 9 to 11 years
  • Repeat the test every 5 years
  • For children, who have a family history of high blood cholesterol, heart attack, or stroke, the testing may start at 2 years of age

People who are age 20 years or older:

  • Those between the age of 20 to 44 years should get tested every 5 years
  • Women in the age group 45 to 54 years should get tested every 5 years
  • Men in the age group 45 to 65 years should get their cholesterol levels checked every 1-2 years
  • Women in the age group 55 to 65 years should get tested every 1-2 years

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Medically Reviewed on 10/2/2020
References
https://www.cdc.gov/cholesterol/ldl_hdl.htm#:~:text=LDL%20(low%2Ddensity%20lipoprotein),for%20heart%20disease%20and%20stroke.

https://medlineplus.gov/cholesterollevelswhatyouneedtoknow.html

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