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June 29, 2022 | Heart Health

How to Understand Cholesterol Test Results

Examining heart for cholesterol levels, good cholesterol, bad cholesterol

One of the most ordered blood tests is a lipid panel. A lipid panel is used to measure cholesterol levels in your bloodstream. While your body needs cholesterol to function (for example building cells and making hormones) levels that get too high can be a problem or lead to problems.

The American Heart Association recommends that adults 20 and older get their cholesterol levels checked every four to six years1. A lipid panel measures four things: HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, triglycerides and total blood (or serum) cholesterol1. Sometimes understanding the test results for lipid panel can be confusing because there are a few elements, including “good cholesterol” and “bad cholesterol”.

What is HDL cholesterol?

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is called the good cholesterol. Healthy levels of HDL may protect you from the risk of heart attack or stroke1.

What is LDL cholesterol?

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is called the bad cholesterol. LDL delivers cholesterol to your tissues and is the type of cholesterol that can cause blockages in the heart arteries1.

What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. While your body makes some, they also come from food1.

What is total blood (or serum) cholesterol?

The total blood (or serum) cholesterol is calculated by adding your HDL and LDL levels, and then 20% of your triglyceride levels1.

What are normal cholesterol levels?

Now that you understand what goes into your lipid panel, you might be wondering what the normal cholesterol levels are2.

  • HDL cholesterol range. For men over 20, healthy levels of HDL cholesterol are 40mg/dL or higher. For women over 20, healthy levels of HDL cholesterol are 50mg/dL or higher.
  • LDL cholesterol range. For both men and women over 20, healthy levels of LDL are less than 100mg/dL.
  • Triglyceride range. A normal triglyceride result is under 150mg/dL.
  • Total cholesterol range. For both men and women over 20, the healthy total cholesterol range is 125-200mg/dL.

What should you do if your test results are out of healthy ranges?

When it comes to cholesterol levels falling outside of healthy levels, 94 million adults in the U.S. have total cholesterol levels higher than 200mg/dL3. Oftentimes, high levels of LDL are the culprit, and it’s recommended to get those levels down so the risk of heart disease and stroke also decreases.

Connecting with your healthcare provider on a plan to lower cholesterol levels is a key place to start. There are two main ways to try to lower your LDL levels: healthy lifestyle changes and medication4.

Healthy lifestyle changes include:

  • Changing your diet. Since LDL levels can increase because of saturated and trans fats, limiting those in your diet is the first step. It’s recommended to focus on consuming more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.
  • Weight management. If you are overweight (your healthcare provider can let you know), losing an appropriate amount of weight can lower LDL levels.
  • Physical activity. Not only does physical activity boost endorphins and make you feel good, but spending at least 30 minutes every day engaging in physical activity can lead to lower cholesterol levels.
  • Managing stress. Stress has the capability to take a toll on your whole body, sometimes in ways you wouldn’t think of. Research has shown that chronic stress can raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. Creating a self-care routine may be a place to start towards managing stress and lowering cholesterol.

Sometimes lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to lower cholesterol levels and medication may be recommended. Medication may be necessary based on your risk for heart disease and stroke. Additionally, there are other factors that may lead your healthcare provider to recommend cholesterol medication. These factors include5:

  • You have already had a heart attack or stroke, or you have peripheral arterial disease
  • Your LDL cholesterol level is 190 mg/dL or higher
  • You are 40–75 years old with diabetes and an LDL cholesterol level of 70 mg/dL or higher
  • You are 40–75 years old with a high risk of developing heart disease or stroke and an LDL cholesterol level of 70 mg/dL or higher

How Scarlet® can help with lipid panels

If your healthcare provider determines that it is medically necessary to order a lipid panel for you and you need to complete a blood draw for the lipid panel, Scarlet® can help. Instead of traveling for the blood draw, a Scarlet Health Professional meets you at your home or workplace, collects the sample, and delivers to a BioReference laboratory for testing. Sometimes a lipid panel requires fasting6 (your healthcare provider can let you know), and Scarlet gives you the opportunity to schedule a morning appointment and not sit in a waiting room waiting with a bunch of other hungry patients.


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