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What should my cholesterol levels be if I'm a woman?

Blood cholesterol is measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). A deciliter is one-tenth of a liter. The National Cholesterol Education Program defines a "desirable" total cholesterol level as less than 200 mg/dL, and levels for most women stay in the healthy or "desirable" range until middle-age. But between the ages of 45 and 55, women's average total cholesterol rises to almost 220 mg/dL. Between the ages of 55 and 64, those levels average 240 mg/dL.
 
Total cholesterol levels between 200 and 239 mg/dL are considered borderline high, meaning you have a "borderline-high" risk of developing heart disease. Levels of 240 mg/dL and above put you in the high-risk category for developing heart disease.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels less than 100 mg/dL are considered "optimal," according to NCEP guidelines. As with total cholesterol, the higher the LDL number, the higher your risk for developing heart disease.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL)-cholesterol levels are interpreted differently. The lower your HDL level, the higher your heart disease risk. In women, a level less than 50 mg/dL is a major risk factor for heart disease. An HDL level of 60 mg/dL or higher is considered protective.

A lipoprotein profile, which determines your cholesterol levels, also measures another fatty substance called triglycerides. Triglycerides are complex fat molecules that link together three molecules of fat from food. They tend to be short-term transporters of fat, and their levels rise right after a meal.

More research is needed to determine whether high triglycerides themselves cause narrowing of the arteries or are simply associated with other risk factors (such as low levels of HDL cholesterol and being overweight). It is known that people with high levels of the "packages" triglycerides usually travel in (very low density lipoproteins) are at increased risk. Most people with raised triglycerides are also overweight, and losing weight usually lowers the elevated levels.

It is important to remember that these recommendations are for healthy individuals, not for women with existing risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, kidney disease, being overweight, smoking or having a family history of heart disease. If you are at risk for heart disease, your target goals likely will be lower.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.