Open Accessibility Menu

What’s the difference between good and bad cholesterol?

What’s the difference between good and bad cholesterol?

You visited your primary care provider last week for your annual checkup and were told your cholesterol is a little high. But one of your cholesterol levels is a little too low. Knowing the difference between good and bad cholesterol can help you decide your next steps.

When it comes to cholesterol, you know that you need to maintain a healthy level to protect your heart and limit your risk of heart attack or stroke. Maintaining healthy cholesterol, though, involves keeping some types of cholesterol low and one type of cholesterol high.

Let’s take a deeper dive into cholesterol and what you can do to keep your levels in a healthy range.

Understanding the types of cholesterol

The American Heart Association recommends that adults 20 and older have their cholesterol checked every four to six years. But that’s for those at a low risk of developing heart disease. Many Americans have risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, meaning they should check their cholesterol more often.

When you have a checkup, a cholesterol test is often part of the routine lab work run during the visit. The blood test to check your cholesterol levels is called a lipid panel, which looks at multiple cholesterol types and your triglyceride level.

A lipid panel will include:

  • HDL cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, is considered “good” cholesterol. A high level of HDL helps protect you against heart disease and stroke.
  • LDL cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, is known as “bad” cholesterol, which can cause plaque buildup in the arteries.
  • Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood that’s used for energy. Having high triglycerides can increase your risk of heart health issues.
  • Total cholesterol is exactly what it sounds like—a total of your HDL, LDL and a percentage of your triglycerides.

What’s considered “normal when it comes to cholesterol? Experts recommend maintaining a total cholesterol of around 150 mg/dL, an HDL of 40 mg/dL or higher for men and 50 mg/dL or higher for women, an LDL of around 100 mg/dL, and a triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or lower.

I have high cholesterol. What now?

High cholesterol is what’s known as a “silent” condition. In most cases, people who have elevated cholesterol don’t experience any symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to have your cholesterol checked regularly.

If a lipid panel shows that your cholesterol is high (or your HDL is low), treatment will depend on multiple factors, including your age, overall risk of heart health issues and your lifestyle habits.

Medications, such as a class of drugs known as statins, may be recommended if your cholesterol puts you at high risk of heart disease. These medications, which can help reduce the amount of cholesterol the body produces, are generally prescribed when LDL is above 190 mg/dL.

But medication isn’t always recommended to treat high cholesterol because of the potential for experiencing a side effect like muscle pains.

In most cases, if your cholesterol is what’s known as borderline high, meaning it’s more elevated than optimal but not yet considered high, your provider will probably recommend lifestyle changes. Incorporating healthy lifestyle habits can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack or stroke.

Steps you can take to lower your cholesterol

High cholesterol is usually caused by unhealthy lifestyle habits. Because of that, it’s largely something you can control. These habits can help you lower your cholesterol naturally:

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking can increase your LDL levels and decrease your HDL levels, so talk with your provider about a smoking cessation plan.
  • Move your body more. Becoming more physically active can increase your good cholesterol while lowering the bad kind.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Fill your plate with lots of vegetables and fruit, paired with whole grains and small portions of lean protein. Limit your intake of saturated fats, which can increase LDL cholesterol, and choose healthy fats like those in avocados instead.
  • Aim for a healthy weight. Talk with your provider about what’s normal for you, weight-wise. Even losing five or 10 pounds can make a big difference in many cases.
When your heart’s health is at stake, you want it in the best hands! LCMC Health cardiology experts are committed to keeping the heart of New Orleans beating. Find a cardiologist today.