How To Convert and Understand Cholesterol Measurements

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Previously published on Answers.com.

If you have high cholesterol there are several typical cholesterol measurements you should well understand: Total Cholesterol, LDL Cholesterol, HDL Cholesterol, and Triglycerides.  You’ll want to know your results and how they compare to goal levels.

In the US, these results are reported in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) while in Canada, Europe and other countries, cholesterol is measured in millimoles per liter (mmol/L.)  There are times when you might want to convert between the US and Canada/European measures: for example, if you want more in depth information and are reading a study done in another country.  Following is information on cholesterol measurements and goals, as well as how to convert to another country’s reporting format.

What are The Key Cholesterol Measurements and Goals

The broad Total Cholesterol goal for most people – stated in mg/dL which is the way cholesterol is measured in the US – is below 200 mg/dL. The goal for LDL (bad) cholesterol is at or below 100 mg/dL, and preferably below 70 mg/dL.  The goal for HDL (good)cholesterol is at or above 60 mg/dL.  For a more in depth explanation and goal breakdowns, visit the Mayo Clinic’s Cholesterol Test page, which is an excellent reference tool that lays out the cholesterol goals in both mg/dL and mmol/L.

What Is the Goal for Triglycerides?

When a full lipid panel – a full cholesterol test – is ordered, a measurement of triglycerides is usually included.   The goal for triglycerides is below 150 mg/dl. Again, the Mayo Clinic’s ‘Cholesterol Test Results’ includes more goal breakdowns for this key measure.

How Do You Convert Between US and European Measurements?

In the US, cholesterol is measures in milligrams per deciliter, or mg/dL while in Canada, Europe and other countries, cholesterol is measured in millimoles per liter, or mmol/L.   

To convert between mg/dL and mmol/L you must either multiply or divide by a specific conversion factor – and the conversion factor is different for cholesterol and triglycerides.  The conversion factor for any of the three cholesterol measures is 0.0259; for triglycerides, the conversion factor is 0.0113.

To convert from mg/dL to mmol/L you multiply the conversion factor, whereas to convert from mmol/L to mg/dL you divide by the conversion factor.  Don’t be fooled by the more commonly seen glucose conversion factors – each type of blood measurement has a different conversion factor so you need to use these specific cholesterol and triglyceride conversion factors. For more information, see this: Lipid Conversion Factors.

For example, to convert a US total cholesterol result of 200 mg/dL to an equivalent Canada/Europe figure, simply multiply 200mg/dL by 0.0259, which yields 5.18mmol/L.  Similarly, a US triglyceride level of 200 mg/dl is multiplied by 0.0113, to get a Canada/Europe figure of 2.26 mmol/L.  To convert from mmol/L to mg/DL simply divide rather than multiply.

Conclusion

You can compare your cholesterol results to goal by looking at your report – if your doctor didn’t give you a copy ask for one – and also by talking to your doctor.  If you are doing research and want to compare your results to those listed in a different country’s format, simply use the conversion tool and you’ll have more information at your fingertips.

Diving into your cholesterol numbers on your own and comparing with goal is a good jumping off point for discussion with your doctor about managing cholesterol.  If you do it ahead of your appointment you’ll be better able to understand and discuss treatment plans – what they are and why they’re indicated.

Did You Know?

If you don’t want to do the math and need to convert between mg/dL and mmol/L, there are online converters for both cholesterol and triglycerides.

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