What is the triglyceride level test?
The triglyceride level test helps measure the amount of triglycerides in your blood. Triglycerides are a type of fat, or lipid, found in the blood. The results of this test help your doctor determine your risk of developing heart disease. Another name for this test is a triacylglycerol test.
Triglycerides are a type of lipid. The body stores calories that it doesn’t use right away as triglycerides. These triglycerides circulate in the blood to provide energy for your muscles to work. Extra triglycerides enter your blood after you eat. If you eat more calories than your body needs, your triglyceride level may be high.
Very low-density lipoproteins (VLDLs) carry triglycerides through your blood. VLDL is a type of lipoprotein, like low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). VLDL measurements can be helpful information to have if you and your doctor are talking about ways to lower your triglyceride level.
The triglyceride level test will help your doctor determine your risk of developing heart disease. It helps estimate the level of LDL cholesterol in your blood. It can show if you have inflammation in your pancreas and if you’re at risk of developing atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs when fat builds up inside your arteries. It can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
You should have a lipid profile done every five years as part of your regular medical exam. The lipid profile tests your levels of the following:
If you’re receiving treatment for a high triglyceride level, your doctor will order this test more frequently to monitor the effectiveness of your treatment. If you have prediabetes or diabetes, it’s important to monitor your triglyceride level regularly because triglycerides will increase when you aren’t properly maintaining your blood sugar levels.
Children may also need this test if they’re at an increased risk of developing heart disease. This includes children who are overweight or who have a family history of heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Children at increased risk of developing heart disease will need this test between 2 and 10 years of age. Children under 2 are too young for testing.
You should fast for 9 to 14 hours before the test and drink only water during that period. Your doctor will specify how much time you should fast before the test. You should also avoid alcohol for 24 hours before 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’re taking.
Medications that can affect the test are numerous. They include:
- ascorbic acid
- cholestyramine (Prevalite)
- colestipol (Colestid)
- fenofibrate (Fenoglide, Tricor)
- fish oil
- gemfibrozil (Lopid)
- nicotinic acid
- birth control pills
- protease inhibitors
- some antipsychotics
The test uses a blood sample that a laboratory will analyze. A healthcare provider will draw blood from a vein in the front of your elbow or the back of your hand. They’ll follow these steps to get the blood sample:
- They clean the site with an antiseptic and wrap an elastic band around your arm to allow blood to fill the veins.
- They insert a needle into your vein and collect blood in a tube attached to the needle.
- Once the tube is full, they remove the elastic band and the needle. They then press against the puncture site with a cotton ball or gauze to stop any bleeding.
A portable machine can also perform this test. The machine collects a very small sample of blood from a finger stick and analyzes your triglycerides as part of a lipid panel. You can often find this type of test at mobile clinics or health fairs.
In addition, you can buy a portable machine to monitor your triglycerides at home. Another way to monitor your triglycerides at home is to mail 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 a good option for you.
You may feel moderate pain or discomfort from the blood test. However, there are a few risks associated with giving a blood sample. They include:
- excessive bleeding
- lightheadedness or fainting
- an accumulation of blood under the skin, which is called a hematoma
- an infection
The following are the basic categories of results for triglyceride levels:
- A normal fasting level is 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
- A borderline high level is 150 to 199 mg/dL.
- A high level is 200 to 499 mg/dL.
- A very high level is more than 500 mg/dL.
Hypertriglyceridemia is the medical term for elevated triglycerides in the blood.
Fasting levels normally vary from day to day. Triglycerides vary dramatically when you eat a meal and can be 5 to 10 times higher than fasting levels.
You have a risk of developing pancreatitis if your fasting triglyceride levels are above 1,000 mg/dL. If your triglyceride levels are above 1,000 mg/dL, you should start immediate treatment to lower triglycerides.
If your triglyceride levels are high, your cholesterol may also be high. This condition is known as hyperlipidemia.
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:
- having an inactive or sedentary lifestyle
- being overweight or obese
- increasing alcohol consumption or binge drinking
- eating a diet low in protein and high in carbohydrates
There are also medical conditions that can cause high triglyceride levels, including:
- diabetes, especially if it’s not well-controlled
- genetic factors
- nephrotic syndrome or kidney disease
A low triglyceride level may be due to:
- a low-fat diet
- malabsorption syndrome
Other medical conditions that the triglyceride level test can detect include:
- familial combined hyperlipidemia
- familial dysbetalipoproteinemia
- familial hypertriglyceridemia
- familial lipoprotein lipase deficiency
- a 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 doctor about the test results to understand what the results mean and the appropriate course of action.
Studies show that carbohydrates play an important role in controlling triglyceride level. Diets high in carbohydrates, especially sugar, can increase triglycerides.
Exercise can also lower triglycerides and increase HDL cholesterol. Even if you don’t lose weight, exercise can help control your triglyceride level.
The Mayo Clinic recommends changes in lifestyle habits to help treat high triglyceride levels. The changes include:
- losing weight
- reducing calories
- not eating sugary or refined foods
- choosing healthier fats, such as fats in plant-based foods or fish
- reducing your alcohol consumption
- getting enough exercise, which is at least 30 minutes at moderate intensity on most days of the week
Treatments that focus on the primary cause for high triglycerides, such as the following, should be strongly considered:
- alcohol use disorder
- renal failure
Common medications or supplements that can help you control your triglyceride level include:
High triglyceride and high cholesterol levels often occur together. When this happens, your treatment will focus on lowering both levels through medication and lifestyle changes.
It’s important to work with your doctor and dietitian to reduce high triglyceride levels through both medication and lifestyle changes.