Triglyceride Level Test

Written by Cindie Slightam | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by Brenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, FACP

What is the Triglyceride Level Test?

The triglyceride level test helps to determine the amount of triglycerides in your blood. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. The test helps determine your risk of developing heart disease. The test is also referred to as a “triacylglycerol test.”

What Are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of lipid and are the body’s storage form for calories that it does not use right away. These triglycerides circulate in the blood to provide energy for your muscles to work. After you eat, extra triglycerides can be found in the blood. If you eat more calories than your body needs, your triglyceride level may be high.

Triglycerides are carried through your blood by very low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs). VLDL is a type of lipoprotein, like low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). VLDL measurements can be helpful information when you and your doctor talk about options for reducing your triglyceride level.

Why Is the Test Ordered?

This test will help you determine your risk of developing heart disease. It helps to estimate the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood. It can also determine if you have inflammation in your pancreas. In addition, this test can determine if you are at risk of developing atherosclerosis, which increases your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

When Do You Need to Be Tested?

It is recommended that you should have a lipid profile done every five years as part of your regular medical exam. The lipid profile tests your cholesterol, HDL, LDL, and triglyceride levels. If you are being treated for a high triglyceride level, this test is carried out more frequently in order to allow your healthcare provider to monitor how well the treatment is working. If you are diabetic, it is important to monitor your triglyceride level regularly since triglycerides will increase when blood sugar is not properly maintained.

Screening for children is recommended if they may be at an increased risk of developing heart disease. This includes children that have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, or are overweight. High-risk children should be tested first between 2 and 10 years of age. Children under 2 years are too young to be tested.

The Testing Procedure

The test uses a blood sample that is analyzed in the laboratory. To obtain a blood sample, a health care provider will draw blood from a vein in the front of your elbow or the back of your hand. First, the site is cleaned with an antiseptic. The health care provider will wrap an elastic band around your arm to allow blood to fill the veins. The blood will be collected into a tube attached to the needle. Once the tube is full, the elastic band and the needle will be removed from your arm. Mild pressure should be applied to the puncture site with a cotton ball or gauze to stop any bleeding.

The test can also be done using a portable machine. The machine collects a very small sample of blood from a fingerstick and analyzes your triglycerides as part of a lipid panel. This is often done at mobile clinics or health fairs. These portable monitors may also be purchased for at-home use to monitor your triglycerides.

You can also monitor your triglycerides at home by mailing a sample of blood to a laboratory using a prepared kit. You should talk to your doctor to see if either of these at-home tests is beneficial for you.

Preparing for the Triglyceride Test

You should fast for nine to 14 hours before the test and drink only water during that time period. Your doctor will specify how much time you should fast before the test. You should also avoid alcohol for 24 hours prior to the test.

Your doctor may tell you to stop taking certain medicines before the test. You should talk to your doctor about the medications you are taking.

Medications that can affect the test are numerous and include:

  • ascorbic acid
  • asparaginase
  • beta blockers
  • cholestyramine
  • clofibrate
  • colestipol
  • estrogens
  • fenofibrate
  • fish oil
  • gemfibrozil
  • nicotinic acid
  • oral contraceptives
  • protease inhibitors
  • retinoids
  • some antipsychotics
  • statins

Test Risks

You may feel moderate pain or discomfort from the blood test. However, there are a few risks associated with having a blood sample taken. Some risks include:

  • bleeding excessively
  • fainting or feeling light-headed
  • accumulation of blood under the skin (hematoma)
  • infection

What Do the Results Mean?

The following are the basic categories of results for triglyceride levels in milligrams per deciliter:

  • normal fasting: 150 mg/dL
  • borderline high: 150 to 199 mg/dL
  • high: 200 to 499 mg/dL
  • very high: >500 mg/dL

Hypertriglyceridemia is the medical term for elevated triglycerides in the blood.

Fasting levels can vary normally day to day. Triglycerides vary dramatically when you eat a meal, and can increase five to 10 times higher than fasting levels.

When fasting triglyceride levels are above 1000 mg/dL, there is a risk of developing pancreatitis. Immediate treatment to lower triglycerides should be started as soon as possible.

If triglyceride levels are high, your cholesterol may also be high. This condition is known as hyperlipidemia.

Interpreting Your Results

There are many reasons why your triglyceride level may be high. Some of them are due to lifestyle habits that increase triglyceride levels. These include:

  • smoking
  • inactivity
  • being overweight or obese
  • increased alcohol consumption
  • eating a diet low in protein and high in carbohydrates

There are also medical conditions that can cause high triglyceride levels, including:

  • cirrhosis in the liver
  • diabetes, especially if it is not well controlled
  • genetic factors
  • hyperlipidemia
  • hypothyroidism
  • nephrotic syndrome or kidney disease
  • pancreatitis

Low triglyceride level may be due to:

  • low-fat diet
  • hyperthyroidism
  • malabsorption syndrome
  • malnutrition

Other medical conditions that can be detected using the triglyceride level test include:

  • familial combined hyperlipidemia
  • familial dysbetalipoproteinemia
  • familial hypertriglyceridemia
  • familial lipoprotein lipase deficiency
  • stroke as a result of atherosclerosis

Pregnancy can interfere with these test results.

Results mean different things for children. You should talk to your child’s pediatrician about his or her test results to understand what the results mean and the appropriate course of action.

How Can I Control My Triglyceride Levels?

Studies have shown that carbohydrates play an important role in controlling triglyceride level. Diets high in carbohydrates, especially sugar, can increase triglycerides.

Exercise has also been proven to lower triglycerides and increase HDL cholesterol. Even if you do not lose weight, exercise can be beneficial to controlling your triglyceride level.

The American Heart Association recommends changes in lifestyle habits to help treat high triglyceride levels. The changes include:

  • If you’re overweight, cut down on calories to reach your ideal body weight. This includes all sources of calories, from fats, proteins, carbohydrates, and alcohol.
  • Reduce the saturated fat, trans fatand cholesterol content of your diet.
  • Reduce your intake of alcohol.
  • Eat fruits, vegetables and nonfat or low-fat dairy products most often.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensityphysical activity on five or more days each week.
  • Substitute monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as those found in canola oil, olive oil, or liquid margarine, for saturated fats. Substitutingcarbohydrates forfats may raise triglyceride levels and may decrease HDL.
  • Substitute fish high in omega-3 fatty acids for meats high in saturated fat like hamburger. Fatty fish like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Control other risk factors for coronary artery disease, like high blood pressure.
  • Avoid cigarette smoking.

Treatments that on the primary cause for high triglycerides, such as diabetes, obesity, alcoholism, or renal failure should be strongly considered. Common medications that can help you control your triglyceride level include:

  • omega-3 fatty acid supplements
  • niacin
  • fibrates
  • statins

In many cases, high triglyceride and high cholesterol occur together. Treatment will focus on lowering both through medication and lifestyle-based interventions.

It is important to work with your doctor and other healthcare providers to use both lifestyle changes and medication to reduce high triglyceride levels.

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