By Paul M. Dake, M.D.
Q: I am a 63-year-old woman and had some blood drawn for cholesterol testing about a week ago and received a call from my doctor’s office assistant a few days later about it, but she was talking so fast, I really couldn’t understand much, other than that I might have to start taking medication to lower my cholesterol at some point in the future.
At my request, they sent me a copy of the lab results, but I’m not sure what to make of them. The values are as follows, with the ‘Optimal Range’ in parentheses: Total Cholesterol – 202 (<200); LDL 115 (<100); HDL 76 (>50); Triglycerides 72 (<150).
My mother had some problems with angina and passed away several years ago of cause unrelated to her heart; my father is in his late 80’s; when I told him about my lab values, he confided to me that his HDL was recently shown to be 95 and he hasn’t really had any heart problems that I know of. Should I be concerned about my results?
A: Your story of how your lab results were conveyed to you is not at all uncommon. You definitely did the right thing when you asked to have the results mailed to you. Regarding your results, LDL (low density lipoprotein) and HDL (high density lipoprotein) are simply 2 different types of cholesterol; and triglycerides is the other way that fat is carried in the blood stream besides cholesterol.
The simplest way to consider these relationships is as follows: LDL causes the buildup of plaque inside the blood vessels, narrowing them and causing blockage that leads to strokes and heart attacks, while HDL acts like a solvent that dissolves away the plaque, keeping the vessels open, so in your case, the slightly elevated LDL is more than offset by the low triglycerides and high HDL.
The most important thing to remember is that the higher your HDL, the less important your LDL, because the former can nullify the latter.
To learn more about this and many other health topics, visit the American Academy of Family Physicians’ website familydoctor.org, where you can click on the Search box in the upper right corner of the website, and enter your topic of interest.
I want to thank Deborah H. for suggesting this topic; if you have any particular topic you would like to hear more about, message me at firstname.lastname@example.org.