Triglycerides are fats from the food we eat that are carried in the blood. Most of the fats we eat, including butter, margarine and oils, are in triglyceride form. Excess calories, alcohol and sugar in the body turn into triglycerides and are stored in fat cells throughout the body.
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.
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.
High levels of triglycerides are linked to atherosclerosis, which is the hardening and thickening of the arteries. Atherosclerosis increases the risk of developing cardiovascular (heart and blood vessel) disease. The condition can also lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Many people with high triglyceride levels often have other health problems that increase their risk of atherosclerosis. These conditions include obesity, poorly controlled type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors that includes a large waist, high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels and abnormal cholesterol levels.
High triglycerides can be caused by a medical condition, such as an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) or liver and kidney disease. Some medications, like beta blockers, birth control pills and steroids, can also raise triglyceride levels. Triglyceride levels can also be affected by alcohol, diet, menstrual cycle, time of day and exercise.
Triglyceride levels are usually measured when you have a blood test called a Lipid Profile. The Lipid Profile shows the levels of triglycerides, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein/ “good” cholesterol) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein /“bad” cholesterol) in your blood.
Everyone over age 20 should have their cholesterol checked at least every 5 years. Your healthcare provider can check your cholesterol and triglyceride levels by taking a blood sample, which is sent to a lab for testing. Triglyceride levels are normally high after you eat. So, you shouldn’t have anything to eat or drink for 12 hours before you have your levels tested.
The chart below lists the national guidelines for triglyceride levels taken after fasting. Levels higher than 2.26 mmol/l (200 mg/dL) are associated with an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and death.
If you have a high triglyceride level, you may be able to reduce them by making the following changes.
Diet and exercise play an important role in triglyceride control. But, you may also need to take medication to lower your triglyceride levels. Your healthcare provider may prescribe taking a statin, niacin or other medication. It is important to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any medication or supplements.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
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