Nutrition - Medical Dictionary

N U T R I T I O N

Cholesterol Guidelines




It is important to know the cholesterol guidelines so you can follow them.  If you cholesterol becomes too high, your have a greater chance of suffering from a heart attack.  A cholesterol level of 300 can make you five times more likely to suffer from a heart attack as someone with a level of 200.  A doctor tests your cholesterol level by taking blood and having it analyzed.  The cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood, abbreviated as mg/dL.

Knowing the risks, what are the correct cholesterol guidelines?  Your total blood cholesterol level will either be desirable (less than 200 md/dL), borderline high risk (200-238 mg/dL), or high risk (greater than 240 mg/dL).  With a total cholesterol level of less than 200, you have a low risk of having a heart attack unless you have other risk factors.  Almost half of adult Americans fall in this category.  Of the others, almost one third of Americans fall within the borderline high risk category and the rest are in the high risk category.

There are two different types of cholesterol – one bad and one good.  Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is the one that, if increased, will increase your chances of having a heart attack.  Cholesterol guidelines state that an optimal LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL.  Between 100 mg/dL and 129 mg/dL is still good.  139 mg/dL to 159 mg/dL is borderline high.  160 mg/dL to 189 mg/dL is high and over 190 mg/dL is considered very high.  If your LDL is high, the doctor may ask you to go on a diet that is low in saturated fats and cholesterol as well as start an exercise program.  If those don’t work, you may need to take prescription medication to lower the LDL level.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is the good cholesterol.  Cholesterol guidelines say that the average woman should have an HDL of 50 to 60 mg/dL and the average man should be between 40 and 50 mg/dL.  HDL levels of less than 40 puts you at risk for heart disease.  Things like smoking, being overweight, and lack of exercise can lower your HDL levels. 

Your doctor should also mention your triglyceride level.  Cholesterol guidelines state that your triglyceride level should be less than 150 mg/dL to be normal.  150 mg/dL to 199 mg/dL is borderline high.  200 mg/dL to 499 mg/dL is high and above 500 mg/dL is very high.  Some people who have high triglycerides have underlying problems such as disease or genetic disorders and may be required to change their lifestyles in order to lower their level.

Even if your total cholesterol is in the borderline high risk category, you may not be at a higher risk for a heart attack.  Certain circumstances, such as women going through menopause, can cause a high total level, but a desirable LDL level.

Regardless what your level is, cholesterol guidelines suggest that you eat foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.  You should also maintain an exercise plan to get plenty of physical activity.  Adults should have their cholesterol checked once every five years.  Men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55 may be advised by their doctors to have their cholesterol checked more frequently.


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