Understanding Your Cholesterol Results
Making Sense of Those Numbers!

Have you had your cholesterol checked lately? How about your cholesterol results? Can you understand what all those numbers mean on your lab test results form?

Your cholesterol results are an important risk assessment indicator for the development of coronary artery disease...so understanding what they mean enables you to make certain lifestyle...or in some cases therapeutic adjustments to assist you in getting your relative cholesterol levels within recommended guidelines.

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getting your head around the numbers can be a little confusing....especially if you haven't had it explained to you.

Most health care practitioners are way too busy to sit down and explain to you what your cholesterol results actually mean.

The first step in understanding your cholesterol results is to de-mystify the units of measurement.

Measuring cholesterol in your blood is done by determining the concentration of cholesterol in a blood sample taken from you

There are two different ways to describe a concentration.

Method One:

The first way is by weight....as in....how many milligrams of cholesterol are in a known amount of liquid. In this case a deciliter of your blood.

A deciliter is one tenth of a liter....a small cup of coffee would contain about one deciliter.

Don't worry...if you've never had a cholesterol test done....they don't take a whole deciliter!

If you live in the United States, then your cholesterol level results will be expressed in milligrams per deciliter on your lab report.

It will show on your lab results like this ..


Total cholesterol 200mg/dL...which means there is 200mg of cholesterol in total..present in one deciliter of your blood.

Method Two:

The second way to express a concentration is by molecular count. This is measured in units called Moles.

If you ever took chemistry then that unit shouldn't be a total mystery to you! If you didn't take chemistry...that's ok...you don't need to understand the technicalities! ...as long as you know what you are looking at when you get your lab results and understand what a safe cholesterol level is...that's what matters!

Many countries outside of the United States use method two to express their cholesterol results on lab reports.

If you happen to live in the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia or New Zealand...among others...then your cholesterol level on your lab results will be expressed as millimoles per liter of blood.

It will look like this on your report.


Total cholesterol 5.1mmol/l

When dealing with cholesterol results, if you want to convert HDL, LDL or Total Cholesterol from one unit to the other...do as follows.

200mg/dl Total Cholesterol divided by 39 = 5.1 mmol/l Total Cholesterol
5.1mmol/l TC multiplied by 39 = 200mg/dl TC

If you want to convert Triglycerides from one unit to the other... do this...

150mg/dl of triglycerides divided by 89 = 1.68mmol/l
1.68mmol/l of triglycerides multiplied by 89 = 150mg/dl

..of course, these units are shown as an example...use your own results with the conversion factors.

The second step is to understand
what it is that the laboratory is measuring.

Your medical testing laboratory measures the cholesterol present in a blood sample taken from you.

Most lab forms will show the following categories with a figure beside each one, indicating the levels of certain types of cholesterol and fat measured in your blood sample.

Total Cholesterol -TC 200mg/dl
LDL 110mg/dl
HDL 60mg/dl
Triglycerides 150mg/dl
Ratio 3.3:1
Fasting: Yes/No Yes

If you have had a simple cholesterol test...one where you have not been instructed to fast prior to the blood test being performed, then it will probably only show your total cholesterol...not the levels of the other components of your cholesterol.

If your lab results show the other cholesterol components...and you haven't fasted...the results won't be accurate.

If you want accurate results, then I advise that you have a fasting cholesterol test done. This will enable correct assessment of your blood fats...unaffected by your recent food and beverage intake.

...You'll need to be nil by mouth for twelve hours before the test. Adding up your results:

If you look at your cholesterol results on your lab form...or alternatively..use the ones from the table above...

Add the following results up.

  • LDL levels
  • HDL levels
  • Triglyceride levels.

You should get the total Cholesterol level which is 200mg/dl.....but wait a minute....It doesn't work out...you don't end up with the correct total cholesterol...and here's why.

Total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and Triglycerides relate to each other mathematically in something called the Friedewald formula for LDL cholesterol.

It works like this...

LDL = Total Cholesterol minus HDL minus Triglycerides divided by 5.


Total cholesterol = LDL cholesterol + HDL cholesterol + Triglycerides/5

Now try it again... put them all into the formula and see how they all fit together to make the correct total cholesterol level.

It works now...right.

What about the ratio?

You can obtain your cholesterol ratio by dividing the HDL cholesterol level into your Total Cholesterol

Cholesterol Ratio = TC/HDL

Let's say your total cholesterol is 200mg/dl and your lab results say that your HDL is 60mg/dl.

Your cholesterol ratio will equal 3.3:1 (3.3 to 1)

The same applies if you are using mmol/l as your units of measurement......like this..

Let's say your total cholesterol is 5.1mmol/l and your HDL is 1.5mmol/l

Your cholesterol ratio equals 5.1 divided by 1.5

ratio = 3.4:1

The goal is to keep the ratio below 5:1; the optimum ratio is 3.5:1.

Correctly measuring cholesterol levels and being able to understand your cholesterol results properly will enable you to be much better equipped to make relevant lifestyle changes if required and better able to understand the recommended management strategy of your health care professional.

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