Doctors generally consider normal triglyceride levels to be below 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) of blood. When triglyceride levels are higher than normal, doctors often advise dietary changes and increased physical activity. However, if triglyceride levels are extremely high, doctors may recommend taking certain medications.
Various factors may affect triglyceride levels, including genetics, medications, and dietary habits. High levels of triglycerides can increase the risk of various health conditions, including cardiovascular disease.
This article explains what triglycerides are and the categories that doctors use to define the levels. It also discusses the causes of fluctuations in triglyceride levels, as well as the risks and treatment options.
Triglycerides are a type of fat, also known as lipids, in a person’s blood. When a person eats, the body converts any unneeded calories into triglycerides for later use — such as between meals when the body needs energy.
If a person regularly ingests more calories than their body needs for energy, their levels of triglycerides may become elevated.
Doctors classify normal-to-high levels as follows:
|Normal||less than 150 mg/dl|
|Borderline high||150–199 mg/dl|
|Very high||500 mg/dl and above|
Some medical conditions may affect triglyceride levels. These include:
Dietary factors and exercise habits
Some lifestyle factors may contribute to high levels of triglycerides, including:
- physical inactivity
- excessive alcohol consumption
- eating a diet high in sugar and fat
Medications that may affect triglyceride levels include those that doctors prescribe for:
Having high triglyceride levels can increase a person’s risk of various health conditions. These include cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, pancreatitis, and fatty liver disease.
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Researchers note that very high triglyceride levels pose a
They add that the risk of hypertriglyceridemia-related pancreatitis may be especially high in people who have uncontrolled diabetes.
Fatty liver disease
High triglyceride levels may also lead to fatty liver disease, which is a buildup of excess fat in the liver. The condition may result in inflammation and liver damage, causing scarring and, possibly, liver cancer.
Test for elevated triglycerides
Doctors check triglyceride levels with a lipid profile, which they may refer to as a cholesterol test. In addition to measuring triglycerides, the test measures levels of HDL, LDL, and total cholesterol.
- Healthy adults should have this test every 4–6 years.
- People with diabetes, heart disease, or a family history of high cholesterol should get the test more often.
- Children should have the test at least once between the ages of 9 and 11 years.
- Young people should have another test between the ages of 17 and 21 years.
People can often lower their triglyceride levels by making dietary changes and exercising more, although some individuals may need prescribed medications, such as statins. A doctor may suggest other medications for those with triglyceride levels that are very high or remain high after statins medication.
Doctors may recommend that people with high triglyceride levels take the following steps to lower them:
- reaching or maintaining a moderate weight
- moderating alcohol intake
- getting at least 150 minutes of exercise per week
- quitting smoking, if a smoker
A nutritious and healthy diet typically involves eating foods high in protein, fiber, and healthy fats. A person can try increasing their intake of:
- lean meats, yogurt, and low fat cheese
- fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains
- avocados and olive oil
At the same time, it is important to limit the intake of foods high in salt, sugar, and saturated fats, such as those in fatty meats and palm oil.
If lifestyle and dietary changes do not lower triglyceride levels, a person’s doctor may initially advise statins, based on the recommendations of the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology. They may also prescribe omega-3 fatty acids.
If a person’s triglyceride levels are particularly high or remain high after treatment with statins, a doctor may prescribe fibrates, which research has shown can lower triglycerides by
After a lipid profile test, a healthcare professional will notify a person about their results. People with triglyceride levels in the borderline or high categories should talk with their doctor to get an individualized plan.
A doctor will consider a person’s other health risks and medical conditions when determining whether to recommend lifestyle changes alone or include other treatments.
Some conditions, medications, and lifestyle factors may cause or contribute to higher-than-normal triglyceride levels. To lower triglycerides, doctors generally recommend adopting a nutritious diet and increasing physical activity.
In some cases, doctors may advise a person to take medication, such as statins or fibrates. In some cases, they may recommend omega-3 fatty acids.