When you visit your doctor for your annual checkup, he or she may order certain routine tests that provide valuable information about your overall health, such as blood cell counts, blood glucose levels and blood cholesterol levels. Also known as a lipid panel, a blood cholesterol test measures the levels of lipids — HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides — in your blood. These readings play a critical role in evaluating heart health and your risk of serious health problems like heart attack and stroke.
When you receive the results of blood tests, all the letters and numbers can look like a form of secret code that seems almost impossible to decipher. It’s important to understand what your results are telling you about your heart and vascular health. Let’s take a look at what you need to know about your cholesterol levels.
What Is Cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that circulates in your blood to help your body produce necessary hormones, vitamin D and bile to digest food. Probably one of the most important things to understand is that your liver already makes all the cholesterol your body needs. That means any cholesterol you consume is more than you need as soon as you consume it. If the amount of cholesterol in your body climbs too high, it becomes a health risk. The most common culprits of dietary high cholesterol are eggs, cheeses and meats.
There are two types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). LDL cholesterol is generally known as “the bad cholesterol.” In your body, cholesterol is critical to cell development, and LDL cholesterol is the transport mechanism for moving all that cholesterol around. The problem occurs when you accumulate too much LDL cholesterol in your body. Excess cholesterol can cling to the walls of your arteries and combine with other particles in the blood to cause hard deposits known as plaque buildup.
On the other hand, HDL cholesterol is generally referred to as “the good cholesterol.” This type moves the excess cholesterol you don’t need back to your liver, so it can be processed and expelled from your body instead of accumulating. Numbers at the high end of the HDL range indicate you have more cholesterol working in your favor to help prevent the dangerous buildups in your blood vessels that could eventually lead to blockages.