What do your cholesterol numbers mean?

A simple blood test called a lipid profile can tell you how much good, bad and total cholesterol you have in your blood, as well as your level of triglycerides, another form of fat in your blood.

Your doctor will ask that you go without foods and liquids other than water for nine to 12 hours before the test so that you'll get accurate measurements. In the United States and some other countries, your test results will list cholesterol levels in units called milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood. Canada and most European countries measure cholesterol in millimoles per liter (mmol/L) of blood.

Here are some guidelines to help you make sense of the numbers:

Total cholesterol (U.S. and some other countries) Total cholesterol* (Canada and most of Europe)
*Canadian and European guidelines differ slightly from U.S. guidelines. These conversions are based on U.S. guidelines.
Below 200 mg/dL Below 5.2 mmol/L Desirable
200-239 mg/dL 5.2-6.2 mmol/L Borderline high
240 mg/dL and above Above 6.2 mmol/L High
LDL cholesterol (U.S. and some other countries) LDL cholesterol* (Canada and most of Europe)
*Canadian and European guidelines differ slightly from U.S. guidelines. These conversions are based on U.S. guidelines.
Below 70 mg/dL Below 1.8 mmol/L Ideal for people at very high risk of heart disease
Below 100 mg/dL Below 2.6 mmol/L Ideal for people at risk of heart disease
100-129 mg/dL 2.6-3.3 mmol/L Near ideal
130-159 mg/dL 3.4-4.1 mmol/L Borderline high
160-189 mg/dL 4.1-4.9 mmol/L High
190 mg/dL and above Above 4.9 mmol/L Very high
HDL cholesterol (U.S. and some other countries) HDL cholesterol* (Canada and most of Europe)
*Canadian and European guidelines differ slightly from U.S. guidelines. These conversions are based on U.S. guidelines.
  1. Below 40 mg/dL (men)
  2. Below 50 mg/dL (women)
  1. Below 1 mmol/L (men)
  2. Below 1.3 mmol/L (women)
Poor
  1. 40-49 mg/dL (men)
  2. 50-59 mg/dL (women)
  1. 1-1.3 mmol/L (men)
  2. 1.3-1.5 mmol/L (women)
Better
60 mg/dL and above Above 1.5 mmol/L Best

If it turns out you have high cholesterol, your doctor may prescribe lifestyle changes, such as exercise and a healthy diet, as well as medication, to help control your cholesterol.

Apr. 01, 2014 See more In-depth