The Good and Bad of Cholesterol

Everyone says you should have your cholesterol levels checked. But what is cholesterol? And why is it important? Understanding cholesterol is essential to good heart health.

Cholesterol is a kind of fat in your blood that is naturally formed in your body. It is normal, and essential to certain cell functions. But the wrong amounts of cholesterol in your blood can affect your heart and arteries.

Understanding your cholesterol levels

When your cholesterol levels are checked, the test involves three different types of fat in your blood:

  • LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Triglycerides

Each is unique and affects your body in a different way. And because they are different, each has a different ideal level. Your doctor measures all three cholesterol levels to calculate your total cholesterol score. If your total cholesterol is too high, your doctor will work with you to get it to target levels.

Check out the cholesterol levels guidelines from the American Heart Association.

LDL cholesterol (“Bad”)

LDL cholesterol is known as “bad” cholesterol because it can build up on the walls of your arteries. The fatty deposits of bad cholesterol, along with other substances, can attach to the arterial walls of blood vessels, narrowing them over time and blocking normal blood flow. If your bad cholesterol is high, your doctor may try to lower it.

HDL cholesterol (“Good”)

HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol. HDL removes excess cholesterol from the heart’s arteries and back to the liver, where it is passed from the body. Having high good cholesterol is better for your heart health. If your good cholesterol is low, your doctor may try to raise it.


Triglycerides are a third kind of fat in the blood. Too high a level of triglycerides is often associated with high total cholesterol, high bad cholesterol (LDL) and low good cholesterol (HDL). Many people with heart disease or diabetes have increased triglycerides.

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