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 the level of triglycerides in your blood is elevated, it could mean you’re at high risk for health problems.
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 is converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells. When you need energy, hormones release the 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.
- total cholesterol
- HDL cholesterol
- LDL cholesterol
Your doctor may request that you avoid food (fast) for 8 to 12 hours before the test. Results are typically available within a few days. Your doctor will make recommendations based on the levels indicated in your test.
|Adults||Children 10–19||Children under 10|
|Normal||under 150 mg/dl||under 90 mg/dl||under 75 mg/dl|
|Borderline High||151–199 mg/dl||high: 90–129 mg/dl||75–99 mg/dl|
|High||over 200 mg/dl||over 130 mg/dl||over 100 mg/dl|
|Very High||over 500 mg/dl||n/a||n/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 20 years old, are tested every 4 to 6 years. Based on your health, your doctor may suggest testing 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:
- a family history of high cholesterol
- using alcohol excessively
- unhealthy eating habits (e.g., a diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrates)
- being overweight or obese
- having uncontrolled diabetes
- experiencing liver or kidney disease
- having high blood pressure
- taking certain medications (e.g., diuretics, hormones, corticosteroids, beta-blockers)
- thyroid disease
Higher than normal triglyceride levels may put you at risk for arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery walls), heart attack, stroke, and heart disease. If your triglyceride levels are high, you’re at risk for pancreatitis and liver disease.
The three primary ways to lower high triglyceride levels are:
- eating a healthy diet
- exercising (aerobic) on a regular basis
- achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
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 healthier 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 (high in calories and sugar)
- Exercise. Physical activity: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a weekly minimum of 40 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise, 3 to 4 times every 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 healthy weight with diet and exercise.
Other lifestyle changes to help lower triglycerides include;
If healthy lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control high triglycerides, your doctor might recommend prescription medications, including statins, such as rosuvastatin calcium (Crestor) and atorvastatin calcium (Lipitor) or fibrates, such as gemfibrozil (Lopid) and fenofibrate (TriCor, Fenoglide).
You doctor may also suggest a supplement such as niacin (nicotinic acid) or fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids).
Because low triglycerides are typically not cause for concern, there’s not a current range for them. If you have a triglyceride level lower than normal (under 150 mg/dl), it’s most likely a reflection of lifestyle choices such as:
- a low-fat diet
- a healthy diet
- a diet that includes fasting
A low triglyceride level could also be an indication of an underlying condition, such as malnutrition or malabsorption, but those conditions would typically be diagnosed by other symptoms.
Because a high triglyceride level usually does not cause any symptoms, it’s typically spotted when your doctor orders a blood test that includes a lipid panel.
If high risk factors such as medical conditions or lifestyle choices are not present, your doctor will order a lipid panel every few years to check cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
If your lipid panel results show triglyceride levels above normal, your doctor will most likely suggest lifestyle changes focused on diet and exercise. If diet and exercise do not have the desired effect, your doctor may recommend medication, such as statins or fibrates.
If your blood test lipid panel indicates that you have a high triglyceride level, your doctor will probably 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.