Understanding the Difference Between Good and Bad Cholesterol

Figuring out the numbers in a lipid profile can be confusing, as we’re measuring several different values at once — including your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol, your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol, and your triglycerides. And each of these values needs to be within a certain range for optimal health.

At our practice, Kirill Zhadovich, MD, our team of health care providers, including Dr. Zhadovich and Dr. Alex Kostiv, believes that patient education is key, which is why we’ve pulled together the following primer on high cholesterol and your different cholesterol levels. The first step is understanding the difference between your good and bad cholesterol.

The good and the bad

As we mentioned above, your LDLs are considered the bad cholesterol because they carry cholesterol through your arteries, which can lead to plaque buildup in these vessels, a condition known as atherosclerosis. As this plaque builds up, it increases your chances of heart attack and stroke. As well, plaque buildup can also reduce the flow of oxygen throughout your body, creating problems in your major organs.

To offset this plaque buildup, your body contains “good” cholesterol, or HDLs, which cart off excess cholesterol to your liver where it’s processed so that it doesn’t build up in your blood vessels.

Cholesterol by the numbers

When we measure your good and bad cholesterol, we’re looking for both higher and lower numbers. As an example, the higher your HDL count, the better your body can get rid of cholesterol. But if your LDL count is also too high, your HDLs have a harder time keeping up, even at normal levels. Another problem is lower-than-normal HDL levels, which means that you need to keep your bad cholesterol down, too, because you don’t have the resources necessary to cart off your cholesterol.

In terms of numbers, here’s how they break out:

LDL (bad cholesterol):

  • Optimal: 100 or lower
  • Normal: 100-129
  • Borderline high: 130-159
  • High: 160-189
  • Very high: 190 or above

HDL (good cholesterol):

  • Low: 40 or lower
  • Good: 40-60
  • Optimal: 60 or higher


Further compounding matters, we also measure your triglycerides, which are a type of fat in your blood. Here’s how triglycerides numbers break down:

  • Normal: 150 or lower
  • Borderline high: 150-199
  • High: 200-499
  • Very high: 500 or higher

We understand that these numbers can get confusing, which is why we sit down with you after we get your results to review your numbers.

Now what?

If we find a problem in your numbers, there are many ways we can approach the problem, including:

  • Medications to increase your good cholesterol
  • Changes in your diet to lower your bad cholesterol
  • Losing weight
  • Increasing your exercise regimen

We will also regularly test your cholesterol to ensure that your numbers head in the right direction.

If you’d like to learn more about what your cholesterol numbers mean, or you’d like to get tested, please contact our office in Niles, Illinois, to set up an appointment.


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