The chart below shows the current guidelines for optimal levels of total cholesterol as well as HDL (“good”) and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol for most people. (The recommended total and LDL levels for people with CAD may be different.)

The chart also indicates optimal levels of triglycerides—fats similar to cholesterol that, at elevated levels and especially in combination with low levels of HDL, may increase the risk of a heart attack. Triglyceride counts are also used in calculating LDL levels.

In the United States, cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) of blood. In Canada and many other countries, it’s measured in millimoles per liter (mmol/L). The latter is known as the International System. (To convert from milligrams to that system, multiply the number by 0.0259. To convert from millimoles to milligrams, multiply by 38.67.)

Total Cholesterol: Less than 220 mg/dL

HDL Cholesterol: At least 40 mg/dL (Men); 50 mg/dL (Women)

LDL Cholesterol Less than 100 mg/dL

Triglycerides Less than 100 mg/dL

Symptoms of High Cholesterol

There are no obvious symptoms for elevated levels of blood cholesterol, but the problem is linked to other conditions that have recognizable symptoms, including chest pain (angina) or heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure.

What Causes High Cholesterol?

A diet rich in cholesterol and—even more significantly—in saturated fat can increase your blood cholesterol level. (Sources of saturated fat include beef, butter, whole-milk dairy products, dark meat poultry, poultry skin, and coconut, palm, and kernel oils.) Many other factors affect your blood cholesterol level, and some people, no matter how small their fat and cholesterol intake, may continue to have high blood cholesterol levels because of genetic disorders, diabetes, or other metabolic diseases. For most people, though, diet remains the first defense against elevated blood cholesterol.

Other factors that can raise cholesterol levels are excess weight (each pound gained adds to total blood cholesterol) and smoking (which increases total cholesterol and decreases HDL cholesterol).

Before menopause, women tend to have higher HDL levels than men of the same age, and some researchers think that the higher HDL levels (as well as lower LDL) may be linked to estrogen. At menopause, estrogen production declines, and so does HDL.


The Complete Home Wellness Handbook

John Edward Swartzberg, M.D., F.A.C.P., Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter

Updated by Remedy Health Media

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 16 Nov 2011

Last Modified: 10 Jul 2013