Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood, used for energy. Cholesterol is a fatty, waxy substance the liver produces. The body uses cholesterol to build cells and make some vitamins and hormones.

Both triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels are important markers for health. There are some key differences between them. Monitoring and keeping triglyceride and cholesterol levels within a recommended range may help prevent some health disorders.

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Triglycerides and cholesterol perform different functions in the body. They are both important markers for overall health and should stay within recommended ranges.


Triglycerides are a type of fat or lipid in the blood. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body and store excess energy from the food a person eats.


Cholesterol is a waxy substance called a lipoprotein. The liver produces cholesterol, and it has different functions in the body. These include hormone production, food digestion, and vitamin D generation. People also consume cholesterol through their food.

The body makes all the cholesterol it needs, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend eating as little dietary cholesterol as possible.

There are two main types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad,” cholesterol and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol.

Checking blood triglycerides requires a blood test. The results of the blood test will indicate triglyceride levels in the body, generally measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

There are four triglyceride ranges:

  • normal: lower than 150 mg/dL
  • borderline: 151–199 mg/dL
  • high: over 200 mg/dL
  • very high: over 500 mg/dL

Several factors may affect triglyceride levels. For example, blood triglyceride levels may rise after a person eats, as the body creates more triglycerides from unused calories in a meal.

According to the AHA, other factors affecting triglyceride levels include:

A blood test can check a person’s cholesterol levels. Test results display cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) of blood. For adults, cholesterol ranges include:

  • normal: 199 mg/dL or lower
  • borderline: 200–239 mg/dL
  • high: over 240 mg/dL

However, there may be different guidelines, depending on where a person lives. For example, the recommended normal level in South Africa is below 189.5 mg/dL (4.9 millimoles per liter).

The CDC recommend that healthy adults have their cholesterol levels checked every 4–6 years. However, some people may need more frequent testing.

Sometimes, a blood test reveals undesirable levels of either triglycerides or cholesterol or both.


High triglyceride levels may be a sign of underlying conditions or may increase the risk of some health conditions. Untreated high triglycerides may increase the risk of serious complications, such as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, stroke, and inflammation of the pancreas.

High triglyceride levels may also be a sign of other issues, such as:

In addition, some medications have side effects that lead to higher triglyceride levels.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute report that high triglycerides do not generally show any symptoms. However, a doctor may suggest tests based on a person’s risk factors.


High levels of cholesterol concentration in the blood can put a person at risk of heart attack and is a risk factor for heart disease. When cholesterol builds up in arteries, it can cause a condition called atherosclerosis, in which the formation of plaques can restrict blood flow.

Combined levels

A combination of high triglycerides and varying cholesterol levels may also be a cause for concern. The AHA note that high triglyceride levels combined with either high LDL cholesterol or low HDL cholesterol can result in fatty buildup in the arteries. This combination increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Diet and lifestyle choices are generally the first steps recommended by doctors to change triglyceride levels. These changes may include:

  • healthy eating
  • maintaining a moderate weight
  • limiting certain foods, such as those high in saturated or trans fats
  • limiting simple carbs and sugars
  • limiting alcohol
  • getting regular exercise
  • stopping smoking


In some cases, doctors may recommend certain medications or supplements to lower triglycerides, including:

Doctors may also recommend prescription medications for people who may be at high risk. Regular checkups with a doctor are important to help analyze and identify changes in a person’s triglyceride levels.

Learn more about lowering triglyceride levels here.

As with managing triglyceride levels, diet and lifestyle choices are generally the first steps in lowering high cholesterol levels, including:

  • eating a heart-healthy diet
  • exercising regularly
  • avoiding or stopping smoking
  • maintaining a moderate weight

However, according to guidelines published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, factors that may increase a person’s risk of high cholesterol levels include:

  • family history and ethnicity
  • health conditions such as chronic kidney disease
  • chronic inflammatory conditions

The guidelines suggest that people at the highest risk of unhealthy cholesterol levels should have personalized risk assessments, combined with additional treatment options.


A doctor may recommend medications such as statins for a person at a higher risk of a heart attack. In addition, a doctor may prescribe the following:

  • niacin
  • fibrates
  • resins
  • selective cholesterol absorption inhibitors

Learn more about the treatment of high cholesterol here.

Triglycerides and cholesterol are two important factors for overall health. The two compounds have similarities and key differences.

Diet and lifestyle play a significant role in both triglyceride and cholesterol levels. Levels that are either too high, or too low, or a combination of both may indicate disorders and put a person at risk of heart disease or other conditions.