Cholesterol Awareness: Numbers You Need to Know

Jean Cacciabaudo, MD

When you need help, 911 is the number to call. But what are the numbers you should know to avoid needing that 911 help?

Each day 2,200 Americans die of cardiovascular disease -- that’s about one death every 39 seconds. Elevated lipid (fat) levels contribute to that risk. Knowing your lipid levels is one of the first health facts you should discuss with your healthcare provider. The good news is, you can lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.

What should those numbers be?

  • In most people, a total cholesterol value should be less than 200 mg/dL.
  • Everyone should aim for a high level of the “good” cholesterol component, high density lipoproteins (HDL) greater that 45 mg/dL.
  • The “bad” cholesterol component, low density lipoproteins (LDL), should be less than 130 mg/dL overall but in patients with diabetes or known coronary or cerebrovascular disease, the LDL should be less than 70 mg/dL. Have a discussion about your ideal LDL level with your healthcare provider. Your personal risk factor profile may direct your goal to a level somewhere between the 70 and 130 mg/dL.
  • Triglycerides should be less than 150 mg/dL as well.

Everyone over 21 should know these numbers, just like you know your weight and blood pressure. Lipid testing is a simple fasting blood test. Routine lipid testing in children is controversial within the medical community, so discuss any concerns with your pediatrician.

Once you know your numbers, the next step is getting them to goal. This usually means a commitment to lifestyle changes including more exercise and healthier food choices. Two simple measures include purchasing a pedometer and taking 5,000 to 10,000 steps a day and filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal. Sometimes medication may be necessary to get to your goal numbers, but this should be directed by your healthcare provider.

It takes a team to develop and maintain a successful health program. You and your healthcare professionals each play an important role in maintaining and improving your heart health. Know how to talk with your doctor about your lipid levels and be sure you understand all instructions. Follow your plan carefully, especially when it comes to medication — it won't work if you don't take it as directed. And learn how to make diet and lifestyle changes easy and lasting. By knowing your numbers, you can avoid making that 911 call.


Jean Cacciabaudo, MD,

Chief of Cardiology,
Southside Hospital

*Disclaimer: The medical content on the North Shore-LIJ Health Blog is for informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for consultation with your physician regarding diagnosis, treatment or any other form of specific medical advice. More...