Certain medical conditions don't cause symptoms or visible signs, placing patients at risk of going undiagnosed for a very long time. In spite of that, a lot of them can come up during routine checkups and tests, from blood or urine samples to regular blood pressure exams.
Causes of high cholesterol
There are a number of reasons that could cause a person to have high cholesterol levels. One of these causes is familial hypercholesterolemia, which translates into a gene mutation passed on from parents to their children. It means that there is a genetic factor that contributes to someone having high bad cholesterol levels from birth.
People who have unhealthy eating habits are also more likely to end up having high cholesterol. While obesity is also a factor, it doesn’t mean that if a person is not obese, they can’t possibly have high cholesterol. The levels of bad cholesterol in the bloodstream are caused by eating fast food, processed meat, fat dairy and meat, sugar-based products, or other foods that are rich in cholesterol.
The more a person ages, the more likely they are to have cholesterol problems, as the liver becomes less efficient in processing cholesterol. Men also have a natural tendency towards higher cholesterol in women.
Diabetes is another risk factor, particularly among those who have type 2 diabetes, which naturally raises bad cholesterol levels.
When to get tested for high cholesterol
While children don’t normally have high cholesterol levels, there are those who are obese, lack enough physical activity, or have naturally high cholesterol levels due to familial hypercholesterolemia. Regardless of your age, you need to remember that hypercholesterolemia doesn’t show signs, which means that you need to get tested specifically for it.
- Children between the ages of 9 and 11 should get tested once.
- Teenagers between the ages of 17 and 21 should get tested once.
- After the age of 21, everyone should get tested at least once every five years.
- Parents who have high cholesterol should have their children tested for the gene, and then do follow-up tests as per the doctor’s recommendations.
Good vs bad cholesterol vs triglycerides
In order to understand cholesterol readings, one must first get a grasp on the notions of good and bad cholesterol. LDL is short for “low-density lipoprotein cholesterol”, which is the evil brother of HDL (short for “high-density lipoprotein cholesterol”).
In friendly terms, LDL is bad cholesterol, while HDL is good cholesterol. The former is the kind you do not want to have in your bloodstream, because it can narrow the artery walls, further leading to heart disease.
HDL, on the other hand, is good because it helps protect your heart against potential diseases. It eliminates the bad cholesterol from your blood.
Triglycerides are also an important cholesterol-related term used to describe a type of fat found in the blood. These fats, or lipids as they are called in the medical world, are actually calories that the body no longer needs. When you consume a large calorie intake, the excess numbers are converted into triglycerides.
Cholesterol tests and readings
Depending on where you’re from, your results can be expressed differently. People who live in most European countries and in Canada, know that their cholesterol levels are expressed in mmol/L (millimoles per liter). The US uses a different reading, which is mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter).
Here is some basic readings information for your total cholesterol level:
- A total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL is the best result.
- Cholesterol levels between 200 and 239 mg/dL are borderline high.
- High cholesterol is given by a reading of above 240 mg/dL.
Readings for LDL cholesterol are a bit more complicated, because the interpretation depends on whether you have other underlying medical conditions, such as angina or coronary artery disease. Here are some guidelines:
- When LDL is 70 mg/dL or lower, it’s a good result for people who have suffered heart attacks, have mounted stents, or have coronary heart disease.
- LDL below 100 mg/dL is good for those with diabetes, or for those who are at risk of coronary artery disease.
- Having an LDL between 100 and 129 mg/dL is good for those without coronary artery disease.
- LDL readings between 130 and 159 mg/dL are borderline high for those without coronary artery disease, and high for those who do.
- Having LDL between 160 and 189 mg/dL is high for those without coronary artery disease, and critical for those who do.
- An LDL result of 190 mg/dL and above is critical regardless of any other factor.
As far as good cholesterol (HDL) is concerned, interpreting the readings is pretty straightforward:
- Men who have less than 40 mg/dL and women who have less than 50 mg/dL are considered to have poor good cholesterol levels.
- Readings between 40 and 59 mg/dL are decent.
- The best results are when HDL levels are 60 mg/dL and above.
Triglycerides results are also pretty easy to interpret:
- Those who have less than 150 mg/dL are in good shape.
- Anything between 150 and 499 mg/dL are considered borderline high or high.
- Critical triglyceride readings are 500 mg/dL or more.