What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are fats from the food we eat that are carried in the blood. Most of the fats we eat are in triglyceride form. Extra calories, alcohol and sugar in the body turn into triglycerides and are stored in fat cells throughout the body.
How are triglycerides different from cholesterol?
Triglycerides and cholesterol are both fatty substances called lipids. But triglycerides are fats; cholesterol is not. Cholesterol is a waxy, odorless substance made by the liver. It is used to build cell walls, helps the nervous system and plays an important role in digestion and hormone production.
How do triglycerides circulate in the blood?
Pure cholesterol cannot mix with or dissolve in the blood. Instead, the liver packages cholesterol with triglycerides and proteins called lipoproteins. The lipoproteins move this fatty mixture to areas throughout the body.
Types of these lipoproteins include very low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs), high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) and low-density lipoproteins (LDLs).
What is a high triglyceride level?
High triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia) can be dangerous to your health. Unfortunately, high triglycerides, like high cholesterol, rarely causes symptoms. It’s vital to get routine lipid blood tests to check cholesterol numbers.
Your healthcare provider determines total cholesterol by looking at a combination of triglycerides, HDL and LDL numbers. If your triglycerides and LDL cholesterol are high, but your HDL is low, you have an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
For the most accurate reading, you should fast 8 to 12 hours before a lipid blood test. A healthy number for triglycerides is below 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
Your healthcare provider classifies high triglyceride levels as:
- Mild: 150-199 mg/dL.
- Moderate: 200-499 mg/dL.
- Severe: Greater than 500 mg/dL.
What are risk factors for high triglycerides?
Factors that may raise triglyceride levels include:
- Excessive alcohol use.
- Family history of high cholesterol.
- Liver disease or kidney disease.
- Medications, including diuretics, hormones, corticosteroids and beta blockers.
- Thyroid disease.
- Uncontrolled diabetes.
- A diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrates.
How often should you get triglyceride tests?
High triglyceride levels become more of a problem with age. As the risk rises, your healthcare provider might recommend tests more often.
Younger adults may need cholesterol tests every four to six years. If you have diabetes, a family history of high cholesterol or other heart disease risk factors, you may need more frequent tests. Men ages 45 to 55 and women ages 55 to 65 need annual tests.
Children also need cholesterol and triglyceride tests. Your child usually gets tested between 9 and 11 and again during young adulthood (between 17 and 21).
What are the complications of high triglycerides?
High levels of triglycerides increase your risk of pancreatitis. This severe and painful inflammation of the pancreas can be life-threatening.
High triglyceride levels also increase your risk of heart and vascular disease, including:
- Carotid artery disease.
- Coronary artery disease and heart attack.
- Metabolic syndrome (a combination of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity).
- Peripheral artery disease (PAD).
How can you prevent or lower high triglycerides?
Certain dietary and lifestyle changes can lower triglyceride numbers. To keep triglycerides and total cholesterol within a healthy range:
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet with less unhealthy fats and simple sugars (carbohydrates) and more fiber.
- Control high blood pressure and diabetes.
- Cut back on alcohol.
- Get enough sleep.
- Lose weight (if needed) and maintain a healthy weight.
- Manage stress.
- Quit smoking.
How are high triglycerides treated?
People at high risk for heart attacks, strokes or other problems may need medications to lower triglycerides. These may include cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
High levels of triglycerides increase your risk of heart disease and pancreatitis. Eating or drinking too many calories can lead to high triglyceride levels. The good news is that you can take steps to lower triglyceride numbers. Your healthcare provider can offer suggestions for heart-healthy lifestyle changes. If needed, medications can also help.