High triglyceride levels, known as hypertriglyceridemia, may not cause symptoms. However, they can indicate underlying issues and are a risk factor for several health conditions.
In people with other risk factors, regular tests for triglyceride levels are important so that doctors can identify when they are raised and check for related issues, including high cholesterol.
Dietary changes and increased physical activity often form the first line of treatment to bring down triglyceride levels. In some cases, doctors may also recommend medications to speed this effect.
Triglycerides are a type of fat. The American Heart Association (AHA) note that triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body.
Although the body naturally makes triglycerides, some may come from the food that a person eats. After a person eats a meal, their body takes the excess calories that it does not immediately need and turns them into triglycerides. This causes the triglyceride levels to rise temporarily after a meal.
The body can store these as fat to burn later when it needs energy between meals.
Regularly eating too many calories may lead to higher triglyceride levels. If the body cannot burn off these calories and stores them as fat, the person may have higher triglyceride levels overall.
Consistently high triglyceride levels may increase the risk of some health conditions, including atherosclerosis.
In this condition, triglycerides mix with other substances in the blood, such as cholesterol, and stick to the walls of the arteries, causing them to narrow. Atherosclerosis is a risk factor for heart disease and serious cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke.
High triglyceride levels may also increase the risk of other issues in the organs, such as fat accumulation in the liver or pancreas. A buildup of fat may lead to inflammation and dysfunction in these areas if a person does not seek treatment.
Severely high levels of triglycerides may cause pancreatitis.
However, research in
High triglycerides themselves generally do not cause any symptoms. The only sure way to identify the issue and seek treatment is to test for high triglyceride levels.
A doctor will suggest when and how often a person needs lipid screening based on their age and cardiovascular risk factors.
Triglycerides are a common fat in the bloodstream. They are a normal part of the blood and important for the body.
It is only when levels get abnormally high that a person may be at risk of negative health effects.
Testing reveals the triglyceride levels in the blood. As triglyceride levels increase, they fall into the following categories:
- Moderate hypertriglyceridemia: 150–499 mg/dl
- Severe hypertriglyceridemia: 500 mg/dl or more
- Very severe hypertriglyceridemia: 880 mg/dl or more
Desirable fasting levels of triglycerides are less than 150 mg/dl.
Triglyceride screening is typically just one part of a lipid profile blood test. The test will also check the levels of:
- total cholesterol
- low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol
- high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol
Doctors may make specific recommendations ahead of the test. For example, they might ask the person to fast for
The ideal frequency of testing will depend on a person’s age and other cardiovascular risk factors.
The test is simple and requires taking blood to test its contents.
The person may need to fast before the test. Fasting helps avoid the natural rise in triglyceride levels that happens right after a meal, giving the doctor a better idea of baseline levels.
Triglyceride levels fluctuate naturally in response to many factors, including calorie intake and time of day. Eating a meal can cause an increase in triglycerides, which the body may store to use later when it needs energy.
These fluctuations are typically short-lived, but they are part of the reason why doctors may ask a person to fast before getting a lipid profile blood test.
Some health conditions may increase the risk of higher triglyceride levels. According to the AHA, these include:
- having excess body weight or obesity
- metabolic syndrome
- insulin resistance
- kidney disease
- inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis
In some cases, a person may have inherited genes that predispose them to high triglyceride levels.
Overall diet trends may also affect blood triglycerides, including:
- excess sugar intake, especially from processed foods, which tend to have added sugars
- higher intake of saturated fats
- alcohol consumption
- excess calorie intake
Some medications may also be responsible for changes in triglyceride levels. These may include:
- hormone medications
- immunosuppressant drugs
Anyone who is uncertain about the side effects of their specific medication should speak with their doctor.
A person can use a few treatments to help lower their triglyceride levels.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly are key to maintaining healthy blood triglyceride levels. People can adopt these measures immediately to bring their levels down.
Specifically, they may recommend that people reduce their intake of:
- foods high in saturated fats
- foods high in trans fats
A report in the journal Circulation notes that a focus on a heart-healthy diet can help bring triglyceride levels down naturally.
A heart-healthy diet emphasizes:
- whole grains
- healthy proteins, such as low fat dairy, low fat poultry, fish, and seafood
- nontropical vegetable oils
A person can adjust this diet to suit their calorie needs and food preferences.
Exercise is an important factor for overall health. It is an excellent way for people to burn extra calories and work out their heart and other muscles.
The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults aim for a minimum of
If a person is new to exercise and feels as though they cannot accomplish these goals, they can consider working with a doctor or physical therapist. These healthcare professionals can help create a workout plan that gradually introduces exercise and builds it up to these recommended levels.
Doctors may sometimes recommend medications to lower high triglycerides. They may do this if changes to diet and exercise prove ineffective or if it is critical that the person get their triglyceride levels down quickly.
In these cases, doctors may prescribe medications such as:
Each of these medications has its own effects and may interact with other drugs. A person should make the doctor aware of any other medications they are taking so that the doctor can create a treatment plan that avoids drug interactions.
While high triglyceride levels may not usually cause symptoms, anyone who is uncertain or concerned about their triglyceride levels should consult a doctor.
Additionally, any adult who has not had a lipid profile test in the last 4–6 years should speak with a doctor about their cardiovascular risk factors and possible need for a test. Catching elevated levels of health markers, such as triglycerides or cholesterol, at an early stage may help a person make changes earlier to address the underlying issue.
High triglyceride levels generally do not cause symptoms. However, levels of triglycerides and other markers, such as cholesterol, can be important indicators. Guidelines recommend that most healthy adults get a test to check these levels every 4–6 years.
While temporary fluctuations in triglyceride levels are normal, issues that cause increased triglycerides may require treatment. Simple diet and lifestyle choices may help lower high triglycerides in many people.
A person can talk with a doctor to find specific treatments for them based on personal factors.