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Health Information for the Public

Isabel Learns About Blood Cholesterol

What is cholesterol?

Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance found in your body.

Why is high blood cholesterol bad for your heart?

Your body makes all the cholesterol you need to be healthy. When you eat foods high in saturated fat, trans
fat, and cholesterol, your body can make too much cholesterol.

Over time, this extra cholesterol can clog your arteries. This increases your chances of having a heart attack
or stroke.

Normal Artery Clogged Artery

What is good and bad cholesterol?

HDL is "good cholesterol." It helps clean fat and cholesterol from your blood vessels. Just remember
the H in HDL for Healthy, and the Higher it is, the better.

LDL is "bad cholesterol." It carries cholesterol to your blood vessels, clogging them like rust in a pipe.
Remember the L in LDL for Lousy, and the Lower it is, the better.

Isabel says: "I was not aware that my LDL was high. I made sure that my husband, Mario, got his cholesterol
checked, too."

Have your blood cholesterol checked.

The blood test to measure the cholesterol levels is called a lipid profile. You can have this test done at your
doctor’s office. If you are 20 years of age or older, check your cholesterol at least every 5 years. Your doctor
may test you more often if your cholesterol levels are high.

Learn what your cholesterol levels mean.

Total Cholesterol:

  • Less than 200 mg/dL—Ideal. Good for you!
  • 200 to 239 mg/dL—Borderline. Be alert!
  • 240 mg/dL or more— High. Danger!

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol:

  • Keep it low!
  • Less than 100 mg/dL is ideal.

HDL (Good) Cholesterol:

  • The higher, the better!
  • Keep it 40 mg/dL or higher.

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Public Health Service
National Institutes of Health
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
NIH Publication No. 08-6353
June 2008

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