As the nation struggles to battle the current obesity epidemic, risks for high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke are also on the rise. In fact, more people than ever are being regularly tested for high cholesterol as part of routine physical check-ups, but when you receive those cholesterol levels it may be difficult to make heads or tails of the numbers in front of you.

Before going into the laboratory to undergo blood work, you will be required to fast.
Laboratory results often provide you with your total blood cholesterol level, measuring the milligrams of cholesterol per deciliter of blood. You will need the help of your doctor or healthcare provider to understand and interpret your personal cholesterol numbers, factoring in your age, sex, level of physical activity, body mass index and family history.

Other diseases that may factor into translating your cholesterol numbers include high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes.
There are two types of cholesterol found in the blood stream: HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol and LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol. HDL cholesterol numbers should be higher than LDL cholesterol levels, as HDL cholesterol is known as the healthy cholesterol the body needs.
Higher HDL cholesterol numbers are actually a positive. HDL cholesterol helps remove the bad cholesterol
from your body, so in order to keep your risk for heart disease and stroke, an HDL cholesterol level around 60 or more is optimum. For men a number less than 40 and women with HDL levels less than 50 are considered at risk for heart disease.
Fortunately, there are things you can do over time raise your HDL cholesterol numbers. For example, increasing the amount of fiber and whole grain food you consume, as well as integrating Omega-3 fatty acids into your regular diet can improve your HDL cholesterol levels. Cutting out the amount of fatty foods you eat and getting regular cardiovascular exercise can also make a difference, but these changes will not happen overnight. You will need to make permanent lifestyle changes and stick too them in order to see a gradual change in your HDL cholesterol level.
LDL cholesterol is the bad cholesterol in the blood. The more LDL cholesterol in your blood stream, the higher your risk for development of heart disease and stroke risk. LDL cholesterol builds up in the on the artery walls, creating potential for blockage, heart attack and stroke.
When analyzing your LDL cholesterol numbers, the optimal number for LDL cholesterol should be less than 100. Numbers between 100 and 129 are consider close enough to the optimal number to not be atr risk, but anything 130 to 190 is consider borderline high to very high, and your risks for heart disease are increased.
If you have already been diagnosed with heart disease, your doctor will work with you on a strategy to lower your LDL cholesterol number to around 70. Strategies may include cholesterol reducing medications, diet changes and exercise programs to help lower your LDL and raise your HDL cholesterol levels. Diabetic patients should work to keep their LDL cholesterol number below 100 in order to ensure a lower risk factor for heart disease.
When reading your cholesterol chart, your total cholesterol is a combination of the LDL and HDL cholesterol in your blood. The ideal total cholesterol target number is less than 200. Patients with total cholesterol number between 200 and 239 are considered borderline high, and should begin treatment and lifestyle changes to reduce their risks. A total cholesterol level of 240 or more means you are at high risk for heart disease and stroke. It is essential that you and your doctor work together on a strategy to lower your cholesterol which may include a combination of cholesterol reducing medication, permanent diet changes and regular cardiovascular exercise.
Along with HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, your overall triglyceride level will also be measured. Triglycerides are the most common type of body fat and people who have high triglyceride levels, low HDL cholesterol and high LDL cholesterol are at even greater risk for heart attack and stroke.
Target levels for normal triglycerides are less than 150. You may be considered borderline high if your triglyceride levels are 150 to 199. High triglyceride levels are around 200 to 499 and anything over 500 is considered very high.

Triglyceride levels are often affected by obesity, alcohol consumption, cigarette smoking and diets high in carbohydrates.
Lowering your triglyceride and LDL cholesterol levels and raising your HDL cholesterol level will take time, and it’s important to remember when trying to lower your numbers they did not get where they are overnight. You may even be genetically predisposed toward high cholesterol, which means you will have to work even harder to reduce potential risk for heart disease and stroke.
After going over your cholesterol chart with your doctor, be sure to ask questions if you don’t understand what they mean. Walking away from the doctor’s office without a clear explanation could prohibit you from making necessary lifestyle changes that improve the quality of and even prolong your life. Ask for strategies, diet tips and medication recommendations to help you get your cholesterol back on the level before it’s too late.