Non-high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is a way of measuring “bad” cholesterol in the body. A healthy range for adults aged 20 years and over is less than 130 milligrams per deciliter, according to the National Institutes of Health.

People need cholesterol for specific functions in the body, including building cells and making certain hormones and vitamins. However, excess cholesterol in the blood, especially “bad” cholesterol, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, is detrimental to the body. It increases the risk of heart disease and other health issues.

Lipid profiles or lipid panels are blood tests that can measure a person’s cholesterol levels. They help doctors predict someone’s risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke and heart disease.

One important measure of “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood test result is non-HDL cholesterol.

This article discusses non-HDL cholesterol, what it includes, and its typical range. It also explores other indicators that cholesterol tests involve and the levels that health experts consider healthy.

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Doctors commonly measure non-HDL cholesterol levels in a lipid panel, also known as a cholesterol test.

It covers all the “bad” types of cholesterol in the body by subtracting HDL, or “good” cholesterol, from a person’s total cholesterol.

Many experts consider non-HDL a superior predictor of heart disease risk than LDL and cholesterol ratios because it encompasses LDL, very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), and triglyceride-rich lipoproteins.

The typical range of non-HDL cholesterol varies with age. Anyone aged 19 and younger should have under 120 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). Meanwhile, it should be under 130 mg/dl for anyone aged 20 years or older.

The higher the non-HDL cholesterol, the higher the risk of heart disease.

Learn more about high non-HDL cholesterol levels.

Not all lipid panel tests include the non-HDL cholesterol measurement. A doctor may request a lipid panel with non-HDL cholesterol if a person has a condition that puts them at a higher risk of heart disease.

People can calculate their non-HDL cholesterol by using their test results and following the equation: total cholesterol – HDL = non-HDL.

For example, if a person has a total cholesterol of 240 mg/dl and an HDL of 40, their non-HDL is 200 mg/dl.

Learn more about cholesterol ratios and why they are important.

Cholesterol tests usually report the following numbers and ratios:

  • Total cholesterol (TC): This measures the total amount of cholesterol in the body, including HDL and LDL.
  • HDL level: Health experts call HDL “good” cholesterol that helps clear fats from the bloodstream. The higher the level of HDL, the lower the person’s risk of heart disease. Learn more about HDL levels here.
  • LDL level: Health experts call LDL “bad” cholesterol. It is the main cause of cholesterol buildup that blocks artery walls and causes atherosclerosis. Learn more about LDL here.
  • VLDL level: VLDL mainly carries triglycerides away from the bloodstream into the body’s tissues. VLDL contributes to plaque buildup in the arteries. Learn more about VLDL here.
  • Triglycerides: Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood that stores unused calories. Learn more about high triglycerides here.
  • TC:HDL ratio: This ratio compares HDL in comparison with total cholesterol. Health experts consider scores above 5 as high.
  • LDL-HDL ratio: Doctors commonly use this ratio to determine a person’s risk of heart disease. An individual can calculate this by dividing LDL by HDL. Health experts consider scores under 5 as healthy.
  • Triglyceride-HDL ratio: Another ratio that can help indicate a person’s risk of developing coronary artery disease. People can calculate this by dividing their triglyceride number by their HDL result.

The table below shows the expected healthy cholesterol level based on age and gender according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Type of cholesterolAnyone aged 19 or youngerMales aged 20 or overFemales aged 20 or over
Total cholesterolless than 170 mg/dl125–200 mg/dl125–200 mg/dl
non-HDLless than 120 mg/dlless than 130 mg/dlless than 130 mg/dl
LDLless than 100 mg/dlless than 100 mg/dlless than 100 mg/dl
HDLmore than 45 mg/dl40 mg/dl or higher50 mg/dl or higher

However, a doctor may have different cholesterol target goals for individuals with an existing or high risk of heart disease.

Meanwhile, the desirable total cholesterol to HDL ratio is 5:1, but the ideal ratio is 3.5 to 1. A 2019 study shows that doctors can use the TC:HDL ratio to identify people at risk of early acute myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack.

Learn more about healthy cholesterol levels here.

High cholesterol level does not cause symptoms. A person can only determine if they have high cholesterol if they take a lipid profile test.

Experts recommend individuals undergo regular screening to keep their cholesterol levels in check. They state that:

  • individuals aged 9–11 should undergo screening every 5 years
  • males aged 45–65 and females aged 55–65 should undergo screening every 1–2 years
  • people older than 65 years should undergo annual screening

They may also ask individuals at risk of heart disease to have their levels checked more often. These include those with:

A person whose cholesterol results fall outside typical ranges should talk with their doctor. Aside from lifestyle changes, healthcare professionals may recommend regular screening to monitor their cholesterol levels and determine the need for medications.

Cholesterol readings are generally helpful in providing an overview of a person’s general health. However, many experts find non-HDL cholesterol to be a more reliable measure of someone’s heart disease risk.

A person with high levels of non-HDL cholesterol or undesirable cholesterol levels should talk with their doctors, who can help them reach or maintain healthy cholesterol levels. This may involve making lifestyle changes and, in some cases, prescription medications.