How to Read Cholesterol and Heart Health Test Results

by Melissa Chichester

Reading blood test results comes with a lot of emotions. You might be worried about what numbers are about to reveal, but you also might be confused about what they need. Heart, cholesterol, and cardiovascular test results can be challenging to interpret. Here is what you can expect to see in your test results and how to read them.

Cholesterol tests

A cholesterol test typically reports the following:

  • Total cholesterol: An estimate of all of the cholesterol in the blood
  • Triglycerides: A measure of fat in the blood
  • LDL: The amount of bad cholesterol in the body that leads to clogged arteries
  • HDL: Good cholesterol that carries bad cholesterol out of the body

Health cholesterol ranges according to the US National Library of Medicine, and what the numbers will look like on your test (measured in milligrams per deciliter):

Men above age 20:

  • Total Cholesterol 125 to 200mg/dL
  • Non-HDL Less than 130mg/dL
  • LDL Less than 100mg/dL
  • HDL 40mg/dL or higher

Women above age 20:

  • Total Cholesterol 125 to 200mg/dL
  • Non-HDL Less than 130mg/dL
  • LDL Less than 100mg/dL
  • HDL 50mg/dL or higher

Triglycerides for men and women should remain under 150 mg/dL.

Blood pressure

When the nurse takes your blood pressure, the measurement shows up in two readings: systolic (top) and diastolic (bottom) numbers that look like a fraction.

● Systolic: how much pressure blood is extending against the walls of your arteries as your heart beats

● Diastolic: How much pressure blood is exerting on arteries at rest

Physicians are usually more concerned about the top number due to its risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease. A normal blood pressure reading for an adult is considered anything lower than 120/80 and higher than 90/60.

Pulse (heart rate)

Heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute. According to the Mayo Clinic, a normal heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. A lower heart rate generally implies better cardiovascular health. Many athletes have lower heart rates. Age, disease, smoking, and body size may influence your heart rate.

Other readings

Levels of certain vitamins and minerals may be taken to search for signs of heart disease, including sodium and potassium levels. Sodium is an important electrolyte that helps regulate water in your cells.* Normal blood sodium is between 135 to 145 milliequivalents per liter. This is expressed with the acronym mEq/L. Potassium also uses mEq/L. Normal potassium levels are necessary for many functions, including maintaining proper heart rhythms.

Calcium scoring is a coronary calcium test that is seen on an X-ray. This test helps your doctor detect and measure plaque in the arteries of your heart. The results of this test are called an Agatston score. Here is how you can read your scores:

  • Zero: No calcium and low heart disease risk. When calcium is present, there is a risk of heart disease.
  • 100-300: Moderate heart disease
  • Greater than 300: High to severe heart disease

If you are confused about these readings, it is important to discuss them with your doctor.