Results of a cholesterol test (also known as a lipid profile or lipid panel) are not considered in isolation. They are interpreted alongside your overall risk profile for high cholesterol and heart disease, which includes factors such as whether you are overweight, how heavy your diet is in fatty foods, how active your lifestyle is, your family history of high cholesterol and/or heart disease, and whether or not you smoke, among other risk factors.
Still, it’s good to have a general sense of what the basic guidelines for cholesterol levels are. The results of your cholesterol test (also called a lipid profile or lipid panel) will be expressed in milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood (mg/dL).
Total Cholesterol Guidelines
Normal: 199 mg/dL or lower cholesterol levels
Borderline High: 200 to 239 mg/dL cholesterol levels
High: 240 mg/dL or higher cholesterol levels
A person with desirable (normal) total cholesterol levels is usually at low risk for heart disease (this depends, of course, on their total risk profile). A person with high total cholesterol has a more than twofold increased risk for heart disease compared to a person whose total cholesterol level is desirable (normal).
HDL (Good Cholesterol) Guidelines
Optimal levels for HDL (good) cholesterol are considered 60 mg/dL and higher. Slightly less great but still good levels are between 50 and 59 mg/dL. Levels that cause concern are considered 39 mg/dL or lower for men, and 49 mg/dL or lower for women. Remember, in general, the higher the HDL, the lower the risk or heart disease; whereas with LDL (bad cholesterol), the higher the level, the higher the risk of heart disease.
LDL (Bad Cholesterol) Guidelines
For people at high risk of heart disease, the optimal level is considered 69 mg/dL or lower. People at some risk, but not high risk, for heart disease should aim to have LDL (bad) cholesterol levels that are 99 mg/dL or lower. Desirable for people not at risk for heart disease are levels between 100 and 129 mg/dL. Borderline high levels are considered 130 to 259 mg/dL, high levels are considered 160 to 189 mg/dL, and very high levels are considered 190 mg/dL and higher.