High triglyceride levels can raise your risk for certain health conditions, including stroke, heart attack, and liver disease. Certain medications, diet changes, and types of exercise may help lower them.

Triglycerides are the most common form of fat in the body. Your body stores and uses this type of fat for energy between meals. If triglyceride levels in your blood are elevated, it could mean you’re at high risk for some health conditions.

Learn more about triglycerides, including what causes high triglyceride levels and how to lower them.

When you eat, the extra calories, sugar, and alcohol that your body doesn’t need right away are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells. When you need energy, hormones release triglycerides.

If you typically consume more high carbohydrate foods than you burn, you could have a high triglyceride level.

High triglyceride levels (hypertriglyceridemia) are considered a high-risk factor for narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), which can lead to stroke, heart attack, and peripheral arterial disease (PAD). If your triglyceride levels are high, you could be at high risk for pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) and liver disease.

Triglycerides vs. cholesterol

Triglycerides and cholesterol are both made in your liver and consumed from food. They both circulate in your blood. Although there are similarities, they have different functions:

  • Triglycerides are a type of fat or lipid that store unused calories.
  • Cholesterol is a lipoprotein used to build cells, produce certain hormones, and generate vitamin D.
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According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a lipid panel will test your blood for levels of:

  • total cholesterol
  • HDL (good) cholesterol
  • LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • triglycerides

A doctor may request that you avoid food, or fast, for 8 to 12 hours before the test. Results are typically available within a few days. The doctor will make recommendations based on the levels indicated in your test.

AdultsChildren 10–19Children under 10
Normalunder 150 mg/dLunder 90 mg/dLunder 75 mg/dL
Borderline high151–199 mg/dL90–129 mg/dL75–99 mg/dL
Highover 200 mg/dLover 130 mg/dLover 100 mg/dL
Very highover 500 mg/dLn/an/a

Note: The results shown in this table are based on a fasting state and are measured as milligrams of triglycerides per deciliter of blood (mg/dL).

How often should you be tested?

The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that people over age 20 be tested every 4 to 6 years. Based on your health, a doctor may suggest testing you more often. The AHA also recommends that children be checked once between the ages of 9 and 11 and once between the ages of 17 and 21.

Your triglyceride levels could be high based on factors such as:

Higher than normal triglyceride levels may elevate your risk of arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery walls), heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. If your triglyceride levels are high, you may be at risk of pancreatitis and liver disease.

A doctor might recommend prescription medications to treat high triglyceride levels. Some of these medications include:

  • statins, such as rosuvastatin calcium (Crestor) and atorvastatin calcium (Lipitor)
  • fibrates, such as gemfibrozil (Lopid) and fenofibrate (Tricor, Fenoglide)
  • cholesterol absorption inhibitors
  • nicotinic acid
  • PCSK9 inhibitors

The three primary ways to lower high triglyceride levels are:

Healthy lifestyle choices that lower high triglyceride levels include:

  • Diet. Avoid simple carbohydrates, such as sugar and foods made with white flour or fructose, trans fats, and foods with hydrogenated oils or fats. Instead of the fat found in meats, choose plant-based fats, such as olive oil and canola oil. Replace red meat with fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as mackerel or salmon. Limit or avoid alcohol consumption, as alcohol is high in calories and sugar.
  • Exercise. The AHA recommends a weekly minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week. That’s 30 minutes of exercise, 5 days a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic experience per week.
  • Weight. Because extra calories are converted to triglycerides and stored as fat, if you reduce your calories, you will reduce triglycerides. Target and maintain a moderate weight with diet and exercise.

Other lifestyle changes to help lower triglycerides include:

A doctor may also suggest a supplement such as niacin (nicotinic acid) or fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids).

Because low triglyceride levels are typically not cause for concern, there’s not a current range for them. Lower than normal triglyceride levels, such as those under 150 mg/dL, are most likely a reflection of the following:

  • a low fat diet
  • a nutritious diet
  • a diet that includes fasting

Low triglyceride levels could also be an indication of an underlying condition, such as malnutrition or malabsorption, but these conditions are typically identified and diagnosed by other symptoms.

Because high triglyceride levels usually do not cause any symptoms, they’re typically spotted when a doctor orders a blood test that includes a lipid panel.

If you do not have high risk factors, including health conditions and some lifestyle factors, a doctor will order a lipid panel every few years to check cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

If your lipid panel results show above normal triglyceride levels, a doctor may suggest lifestyle changes focused on diet and exercise. If diet and exercise do not have the desired effect, they may recommend medication such as statins or fibrates.

If your blood test lipid panel indicates that you have a high triglyceride level, a doctor will likely recommend lifestyle changes, such as exercising and following a diet low in simple carbohydrates, trans fats, and foods with hydrogenated oils or fats.

Typically, these lifestyle changes will improve your overall health and lower your triglyceride levels.

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