How Much Do You Know About Triglycerides?
Your doctor may become concerned if your cholesterol level is too high. Another type of fatty substance found in the blood, known as triglycerides, may also need to be monitored in the effort to prevent heart disease. That is because research has identified high triglyceride levels as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, even when cholesterol levels are normal.
What Are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a form of fat present in food, human body fat, and blood. Blood triglyceride levels are affected by dietary fat and are manufactured in the body from other energy sources, such as carbohydrates. Triglycerides are also stored as body fat.
An elevation of blood triglycerides is referred to as hypertriglyceridemia. The blood test to measure triglyceride levels is easy and can be done along with a routine blood test that also measures various types of cholesterol. (The most accurate results are obtained when a person fasts before this test.) Triglyceride levels can be quite variable, so several measurements may be needed to provide accurate baseline values.
How High Is Too High?
An elevated triglyceride level can be an independent medical problem or can be due to another existing medical problem. For instance, people with poorly controlled type 1 or type 2 diabetes often have elevated triglyceride levels. Elevated triglycerides can also be brought on by thyroid disorders, kidney problems, obesity, excess alcohol, and taking certain medicines.
The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) classifies the ranges of fasting triglyceride levels in the following way:
Studies have found that high triglycerides levels may increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and other conditions. There are steps that you can take, though, to lower your levels.
Ways to Tame Triglycerides
Here are some tips from the experts:
American Heart Association
National Cholesterol Education Program
Dietitians of Canada
ATP III guidelines at-a-glance quick desk reference. National Cholesterol Education Program website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/cholesterol/atglance.pdf. Published May 2001. August 16, 2012.
Austin MA, et al. Cardiovascular disease mortality in familial forms of hypertriglyceridemia: a 20-year prospective study. Circulation . 2000;101:2777-2782.
High blood cholesterol: what you need to know. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/chol/wyntk.htm . Updated June 2005. Accessed August 16, 2012.
Hypertriglyceridemia. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php. Updated July 19, 2012. Accessed August 16, 2012.
Physical activity for everyone: how much physical activity do adults need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov.... Updated December 1, 2011. Accessed August 16, 2012.
Triglycerides. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.o.... Accessed August 16, 2012.
What you can do to lower your triglycerides. University of Massachusetts website. Available at: http://www.umassmed.edu/uploadedfiles/LoweringTriglycerides.pdf. Accessed August 16, 2012.
Last reviewed August 2012 by Brian Randall, MD