What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. When your body digests food, it changes the fats in the food to triglycerides. Your liver also makes triglycerides. Your blood carries triglycerides to all parts of the body to be used as energy or stored as fat.

Triglycerides combine with protein and cholesterol (another type of fat) in your blood to form substances called high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). HDL is often called “good” cholesterol and LDL is often called “bad” cholesterol. High levels of triglycerides along with low HDL and high LDL levels can increase your risk for heart disease, heart attack, or stroke. Very high triglycerides may increase the risk for inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).

What causes high triglyceride levels?

High triglyceride levels may have several causes:

  • Being very overweight or eating more calories in your diet than you burn, especially those from sugar and alcohol.
  • Alcohol increases the amount of triglycerides your liver makes. It also reduces the amount of fat cleared from your blood.
  • Triglyceride levels go up as you get older.
  • Some drugs, such as birth control pills, steroids, and diuretics (water pills), can cause triglyceride levels to rise.
  • Some health conditions can raise your triglyceride level (for example, diabetes, low thyroid levels, kidney disease, or liver disease)
  • Some forms of high triglycerides run in families.

What are the symptoms?

High triglyceride levels in your blood do not cause any symptoms. You may have symptoms of illnesses that cause high triglyceride levels, such as diabetes or heart disease.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider can measure your triglyceride level with a blood test. You should not eat for 12 to 14 hours before the test. This way the test checks the amount of triglycerides being made by your liver rather than what is made from foods you have eaten.

How is it treated?

You can often control triglyceride levels by:

  • Eating healthy
  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Exercising
  • Not smoking

If these lifestyle changes do not lower your triglyceride levels, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to help. Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider. Take any medicines exactly as prescribed.

How can I take care of myself and prevent high triglycerides?

Here are things you can do to eat healthy and lower your triglyceride level:

  • Eat less sugar and sugar-containing foods and drinks, like soda.
  • Eat several small meals and healthy snacks throughout the day instead of 2 or 3 large meals.
  • Drink little or no alcohol.
  • Get no more than 20 to 35% of your total calories from fat.
  • Eat 2 or 3 meals of fish, such as salmon, tuna, or mackerel, each week. (Fish oil has been found to reduce triglycerides.)
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-31
Last reviewed: 2014-10-30
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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