Your doctor may become concerned if your cholesterol level is too high. Another type of fatty substance found in the blood, known as
triglycerides, may also need to be monitored in the effort to prevent heart disease. That is because research has identified high triglyceride levels as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, even when cholesterol levels are normal.
Triglycerides are a form of fat present in food, human body fat, and blood. Blood triglyceride levels are affected by dietary fat and are manufactured in the body from other energy sources, such as carbohydrates. Triglycerides are also stored as body fat.
An elevation of blood triglycerides is referred to as
hypertriglyceridemia. The blood test to measure triglyceride levels is easy and can be done along with a routine blood test that also measures various types of cholesterol. (The most accurate results are obtained when a person fasts before this test.) Triglyceride levels can be quite variable, so several measurements may be needed to provide accurate baseline values.
An elevated triglyceride level can be an independent medical problem or can be due to another existing medical problem. For instance, people with poorly controlled
diabetes often have elevated triglyceride levels. Elevated triglycerides can also be brought on by
thyroid disorders, kidney problems,
obesity, excess alcohol, and taking certain medicines.
The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) classifies the ranges of fasting triglyceride levels in the following way:
- Normal—less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) (1.7 mmol/L)
- Borderline high—150-199
mg/dL (1.7-2.2 mmol/L)
mg/dL (2.3-5.6 mmol/L)
- Very high—more than or equal to 500 mg/dL (5.7 mmol/L)
Studies have found that high triglycerides levels may increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other conditions. There are steps that you can take, though, to lower your levels.
Here are some tips from the experts:
- Increase physical activity
—Aerobic exercise can help with weight loss and can decrease triglyceride levels at the same time. Aim
for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week. First get approval from your doctor.
- Maintain a healthy weight—Studies have shown losing weight and maintaining an ideal weight to be associated with decreased levels of triglycerides and cholesterol.
- Eat fruits, veggies, and low-fat dairy products—Include these choices as part of your healthy diet.
- Choose fats wisely
—Instead of choosing foods high in saturated and trans fats, pick food that contains unsaturated fat. Examples include certain oils (eg, olive, corn, canola), nuts, seeds, avocados, and food with omega-3 fatty acids (eg, fish, flaxseed).
- Eat more fish
—Omega-3 fatty acids are found in all types of fish, but are more abundant in fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines, and herring. Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include tofu, soybeans, flaxseed, canola oil, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.
- Limit alcohol
—According to the American Heart Association (AHA), small amounts of alcohol can increase triglyceride levels.
ATP III guidelines at-a-glance quick desk reference. National Cholesterol Education Program website. Available at: . Published May 2001. August 16, 2012.
Austin MA, et al. Cardiovascular disease mortality in familial forms of hypertriglyceridemia: a 20-year prospective study.
High blood cholesterol: what you need to know. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at:
. Updated June 2005. Accessed August 16, 2012.
Hypertriglyceridemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: . Updated July 19, 2012. Accessed August 16, 2012.
Physical activity for everyone: how much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: . Updated December 1, 2011. Accessed August 16, 2012.
Triglycerides. American Heart Association website. Available at:
. Accessed August 16, 2012.
What you can do to lower your triglycerides. University of Massachusetts website. Available at: . Accessed August 16, 2012.
Last reviewed August 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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