Written by Joe Suppes

So you came back from the doctors office with a page full of numbers and you are trying to make some sense of them.  I am going to try to give a simple breakdown of the main components of the number on a cholesterol blood test.  Hopefully, by the end of this post you’re a little closer to understanding what all of those numbers mean.

Total Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a substance that has many beneficial functions in the body.  When too much is consumed or produced by the body and not enough is removed you can end up with excessive amounts.  Cholesterol can build up in the arteries and cut off blood supply to the heart and other areas of the body.  Having healthy cholesterol levels has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. 

LDL Cholesterol

LDL (low density lipoprotein) is a combination of fat (lipid) and protein. LDL is a carrier for fat and cholesterol. It takes fat and cholesterol from the liver and transports it through the bloodstream. It eventually drops of the fat and cholesterol off at the cells to be utilized. High levels of LDL cholesterol are a major risk factor for coronary heart disease.  The LDL cholesterol number is the main therapeutic target for intervention.  All of the other numbers on your blood test determine what approach the doctor will take in lowering LDL cholesterol.

HDL Cholesterol

HDL runs opposite LDL and carries fat and cholesterol from the cells, through the bloodstream, and to the liver to be metabolized or excreted. Low levels of HDL in the blood are an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease.  High levels of HDL protect the heart by carrying away cholesterol that could build up in the walls of the arteries. 


Triglyceride is a term that describes a common way fat is found in the body. Triglycerides are three fat molecules attached to another molecule called glycerol. Generally, when the term triglycerides is used in your doctor’s office it refers to the amount of fat found in the blood. There is an association between high triglyceride levels and coronary heart disease.



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