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Just the Facts on Ranges: Cholesterol and You

written by: Diana Cooper • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 5/11/2011

Know what age you should be to get tested for cholesterol and learn what the normal range of cholesterol levels are, including total, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides.

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    Link to Heart Disease

    Cholesterol The body needs cholesterol to function properly. However, too much can clog the arteries (atherosclerosis) and lead to heart disease.

    Maintaining a normal range of cholesterol levels (and triglyceride levels) will help lower ones risk of heart disease but other factors should also be taken into consideration such as diet, activity, and smoking.

    Experts recommend being tested at the age of 20 and at least every 5 years after that. People with levels out of the normal range will be tested more often to monitor the success of treatment.

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    To test cholesterol levels, your health care provider will draw blood. A complete lipid profile will show your total cholesterol level, HDL (good cholesterol) level, LDL (bad cholesterol) level, and triglyceride level.

    For accurate results, you will be instructed to not eat or drink anything (except water) 9-12 hours before the test. Certain vitamins, minerals, and medications can affect the test, including corticosteroids, thiazide diuretics, birth control pills, allopurinol, niacin, and vitamin D. Depending on the medication, you may be asked to stop taking it prior to the test (this should be discussed with your health care provider, even if the drug is over-the-counter).

    The American Heart Associated has an excellent tool for you to track your heart health and your cholesterol levels.

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    Total Cholesterol

    This test includes both HDL and LDL levels.

    • Less than 200 mg/dL is considered the normal range.
    • 200-239 mg/dL is considered borderline-high. It is possible that these numbers can be "normal" depending on the HDL and LDL levels.
    • 240 mg/dL and higher is considered high. Typically, ones risk of heart disease is twice as high as someone in the normal range.


    LDL (low-density lipoprotein) is the bad cholesterol. This type travels in the bloodstream, attached to proteins, to the cells and the "left overs" which the cells do not need builds up in the arteries.

    • Less than 100 mg/dL is optimal.
    • 100-129 mg/dL is above optimal.
    • 130-159 mg/dL is borderline-high.
    • 160-189 mg/dL is high.
    • 190 mg/dL and above is very high.


    HDL (high-density lipoprotein) is the good cholesterol. This type travels in the bloodstream, attached to more proteins that LDL, to the liver to be broken-down and eliminated from the body. The higher the level, the better.

    • 60 mg/dL and above offers protection against heart disease.
    • Less than 40 mg/dL in men increases their risk of heart disease.
    • Less than 50 mg/dL in women increases their risk of heart disease.


    Causes of high triglyceride levels include physical inactivity, being overweight or obese, smoking, and excessive drinking (alcohol).

    • Less than 150 mg/dL is normal.
    • 150-199 mg/dL is borderline-high.
    • 200-499 mg/dL is high.
    • 500 mg/dL and above is very high.

    A normal range of cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels can be maintained in many people by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, not smoking, and limiting alcoholic drinks (no more than 1 a day for women and no more than 2 a day for men).

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    Photo Credit

    Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine (NLM).