What are high triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat in your blood. Your body uses them for energy. You need some for good health. But high triglyceride levels are linked with a higher risk of coronary artery disease. A high level may be a sign of metabolic syndrome. Very high levels raise your risk of pancreatitis.
What causes this problem?
High triglycerides can run in families. They may also be caused by other conditions, like obesity and diabetes. You may have high levels of this fat if you eat or drink too many foods or drinks with added sugar or if you drink a lot of alcohol. And some medicines can cause this condition.
What are the symptoms?
High triglycerides usually don't cause symptoms. But if the condition is genetic, you may see fatty bumps under your skin.
How is this problem diagnosed?
A blood test is used to measure triglycerides. It's most accurate if it's done after you go without food or drink for 9 to 14 hours (fasting).
Triglyceride levels are:footnote 1
- Normal when they are less than 150 mg/dL.
- Moderately high when they are 150 to 499 mg/dL.
- Very high when they are 500 mg/dL or higher.
How are high triglycerides treated?
A healthy lifestyle can help lower your triglycerides and your risk of coronary artery disease. It includes losing weight, being active, limiting high-sugar foods and drinks, and limiting alcohol. Your doctor may recommend that you also take medicine. Your doctor will treat other health problems if they are causing high levels.
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High triglycerides can happen if you eat a lot of carbohydrates or if you eat or drink too many foods or drinks with added sugar. Your risk is higher if you drink a lot of alcohol. You may have high triglycerides if you're overweight or not active.
High triglycerides can also run in families.
Other causes include certain diseases, such as hypothyroidism or kidney disease.
High triglycerides rarely occur on their own. They are usually linked with other conditions.
Certain medicines may also raise triglycerides. These include:
A healthy lifestyle can help lower triglyceride levels. A healthy lifestyle can also help lower your risk of coronary artery disease. Some people also take medicine to lower triglycerides. Lowering levels can also lower your risk of pancreatitis.
A healthy lifestyle includes:
- Losing weight and staying at a healthy weight.
- Limiting saturated fats and limiting foods and drinks that have a lot of sugar.
- Being active.
- Limiting or avoiding alcohol.
- Not smoking.
- Keeping blood sugar in a target range if you have diabetes.
Your doctor will check for and treat other health problems that might be causing your high triglycerides. These may include hypothyroidism or kidney disease. Your doctor may adjust or stop any medicines that might raise your level.
A healthy diet and lifestyle can help lower your triglycerides level and lower your risk of coronary artery disease.
- Lose weight, and stay at a healthy weight.
Triglycerides are stored as fat in your tissues and muscles.
- Limit foods and drinks that have a lot of sugar.
These include sugar-sweetened desserts, soda pop, and fruit juice.
- Limit saturated fats.
These are found in animal-based foods like meat, butter, milk, and cheese. They are also found in coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter.
- Choose a heart-healthy eating plan.
Eat a diet that's rich in vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats, and low-fat or nonfat dairy foods.
Eating oily fish may lower your levels. These fish include salmon, mackerel, lake trout, herring, and sardines.
- Limit or avoid alcohol.
Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. Alcohol has a strong effect on triglycerides.
- Be active on most days of the week.
Before you start to be more active, check with your doctor to be sure it's safe.
- If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar in your target range.
- Don't smoke.
If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
- Take your medicines exactly as prescribed.
Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
Medicines are used to lower triglyceride levels and lower your risk of coronary artery disease and pancreatitis. Medicine is used along with a healthy lifestyle.
Whether medicine might benefit you may depend on more than just your triglyceride number. You and your doctor may also look at your cholesterol levels and your risk of heart attack and stroke.
The medicines that you might take are:
- Nicotinic acid (niacin).
- Prescription fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids).
- Grundy SM, et al. (2018). 2018 AHA/ACC/AACVPR/AAPA/ABC/ACPM/ADA/AGS/APhA/ASPC/NLA/PCNA guideline on the management of blood cholesterol: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association task force on clinical practice guidelines. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, published online November 8, 2018: S0735. DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2018.11.003. Accessed January 28, 2019.
Current as of: January 10, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Elizabeth T. Russo MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: January 10, 2022