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What Is Cholesterol?


Cholesterol is not the same as fat. It is a waxy substance made in the liver and found in foods of animal origin, such as meat, eggs and dairy products. The body needs some cholesterol in order to function properly. Cholesterol is important to build and maintain cell walls and produce various substances such as hormones, vitamin D and bile acids. The body only needs a small amount of cholesterol to meet its needs, and when too much is present, health problems such as heart disease may develop.

Total cholesterol level:

  • Less than 199 mg/dL is desirable
  • 200-239 mg/dL is borderline high
  • Greater than 240 mg/dL is high

HDL takes excess cholesterol to the liver for disposal in the bile. It is sometimes referred to as “good” cholesterol since high levels of HDL (60 mg/dL or higher) reduce risk for coronary heart disease. Levels below 40 mg/dL add a risk factor.

A variety of factors can affect your cholesterol levels:

  • Diet
  • Weight
  • Exercise
  • Age
  • Heredity
  • Certain medications and medical conditions

Everyone over the age of 20 should get their cholesterol levels measured at least once every 5 years. The non-fasting cholesterol test will show your total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. If your total cholesterol is high, you should consider discussing the result with your doctor for recommendations. Your doctor may repeat the cholesterol measurement in your blood after having you fast for several hours.

Please keep in mind that if you are going to donate blood you should always have something to eat and drink before donating. This is important to reduce the risk of not feeling well or having minor complications after donating. The non-fasting cholesterol measurements are only intended to provide you with a general sense of your levels and should not be used to replace follow-up testing by your doctor if you are found to have high cholesterol.