In the United States, cholesterol levels are measured in milligrams (mg) of cholesterol per deciliter (dL) of blood. In Canada and many European countries, cholesterol levels are measured in millimoles per liter (mmol/L). To interpret your test results, use these general guidelines.

Total cholesterol
(U.S. and some other countries)
Total cholesterol*
(Canada and most of Europe)
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)
Below 100 mg/dL Below 2.6 mmol/L

Best for people at risk of heart disease. Below 70 (1.8 mmol/L) may be ideal for people who have heart disease.

Below 100 mg/dL Below 2.6 mmol/L Optimal for people at risk of heart disease
100-129 mg/dL 2.6-3.3 mmol/L Near optimal
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)
Below 40 mg/dL (men)
Below 50 mg/dL (women)
Below 1 mmol/L (men)
Below 1.3 mmol/L (women)
50-59 mg/dL 1.3-1.5 mmol/L Better
60 mg/dL and above Above 1.5 mmol/L Best
(U.S. and some other countries)
(Canada and most of Europe)
Below 150 mg/dL Below 1.7 mmol/L Desirable
150-199 mg/dL 1.7-2.2 mmol/L Borderline high
200-499 mg/dL 2.3-5.6 mmol/L High
500 mg/dL and above Above 5.6 mmol/L Very high

*Canadian and European guidelines differ slightly from U.S. guidelines. These conversions are based on U.S. guidelines.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that a triglyceride level of 100 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L) or lower is considered "optimal." The AHA says this optimal level would improve your heart health. However, the AHA doesn't recommend drug treatment to reach this level. Instead, for those trying to lower their triglycerides to this level, lifestyle changes such as diet, weight loss and physical activity are encouraged. That's because triglycerides usually respond well to dietary and lifestyle changes.

The four main categories — total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol and triglycerides — are what are most commonly measured or calculated during a cholesterol test. Still, many doctors have begun examining other substances in the blood. Tests of these other substances in the blood are often done on the same sample of blood taken during a cholesterol test and are meant to complement, not replace, a standard lipid panel or lipid profile cholesterol test.

If your results show that your cholesterol level is high, don't get discouraged. You may be able to lower your cholesterol with lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, exercising and eating a healthy diet. If lifestyle changes aren't enough, cholesterol-lowering medications also may help. Talk to your doctor about the best way for you to lower your cholesterol.

Women and cholesterol test results

The hormone estrogen tends to cause women to have higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and higher levels of triglycerides. If you have higher levels of triglycerides than normal, talk to your doctor. Many women who are at risk of heart disease and have high LDL cholesterol levels may benefit from cholesterol-lowering medications. With menopause, women's cholesterol levels can change. It's a good idea to have a repeat cholesterol test after you've stopped menstruating for good, since your cholesterol levels may change.

Nov. 12, 2014