Understanding cholesterol results

Cholesterol is a soft, wax-like substance found in all parts of the body. Your body needs a little bit of cholesterol to work properly. But too much cholesterol can clog your arteries and lead to heart disease.

Some cholesterol is considered "good" and some is considered "bad." Different blood tests can be done to individually measure each type of cholesterol.

Total Cholesterol

A total cholesterol test measures all types of cholesterol in your blood. The results of this test tells your doctor whether your cholesterol is too high.

  • Best: lower than 200
  • Borderline high: 200 - 239
  • High: 240 and higher

If your total cholesterol levels are high, your doctor will want to know what your LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels before deciding whether you need treatment.

Knowing your LDL and HDL cholesterol levels will also help guide your doctor to choose the best drug for you.

LDL (Bad) Cholesterol

LDL stands for low-density lipoprotein. It's also sometimes called "bad" cholesterol. Lipoproteins are made of fat and protein. They carry cholesterol, triglycerides, and other fats, called lipids, in the blood to various parts of the body. LDL can clog your arteries.

Your LDL level is what doctors watch most closely. You want your LDL to be low. Too much LDL, commonly called "bad cholesterol," is linked to cardiovascular disease. If it gets too high, you will need treatment.

A healthy LDL level is one that falls in the best or near-best range.

Best: Less than 100 mg/dL (less than 70 mg/dL for persons with a history of heart disease or those at very high risk)

Near Best: 100 - 129 mg/dL

Borderline High: 130 - 159 mg/dL

High: 160 - 189 mg/dL

Very High: 190 mg/dL and higher

HDL (Good) Cholesterol

HDL stands for high-density lipoprotein. It's also sometimes called "good" cholesterol. Lipoproteins are made of fat and protein. They carry cholesterol, triglycerides, and other fats, called lipids, in the blood from other parts of your body to your liver.

You want your HDL cholesterol to be high. Studies of both men and women have shown that the higher your HDL, the lower your risk of coronary artery disease. This is why HDL is sometimes referred to as "good" cholesterol.

A healthy HDL level should be as follows:

  • Men: above 40 mg/dL
  • Women: above 50 mg/dL

An HDL 60 mg/dL or above helps protect against heart disease. Exercise helps raise your HDL cholesterol.

VLDL Cholesterol

VLDL stands for very low density lipoprotein. There are three major types of lipoproteins. VLDL contains the highest amount of triglycerides. VLDL is considered a type of bad cholesterol, because it helps cholesterol build up on the walls of arteries.

A normal VLDL cholesterol level is between 5 and 40 mg/dL.


Sometimes, your cholesterol levels may be low enough that your doctor will not ask you to change your diet or take any medications.

When your levels are high, your doctor must consider other factors before deciding whether your cholesterol levels are a concern and need treatment.

See also:

Alternate Names

Cholesterol test results; LDL test results; VLDL test results; HDL test results


Gennest J, Libby P. Lipoprotein disorders and cardiovascular disease. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, eds. Braunwald’s Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 47.

Update Date: 7/18/2011

Updated by: A.D.A.M. Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz.


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