What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. They are a major source of energy and the most common type of fat in your body.
When you eat, your body uses the calories it needs for quick energy. Any extra calories are turned into triglycerides and stored in fat cells to be used later. The excess calories are stored as fat regardless of what kind of food you eat—fat, carbohydrate, or protein. If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, you may have high triglycerides.
In normal amounts, triglycerides are important to good health. When triglyceride levels are high, it is not clear whether these high levels directly increase your risk for heart disease. But high triglycerides are often part of a group of conditions called metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is the combination of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, too much fat around the waist, low HDL ("good") cholesterol, and high triglycerides. This syndrome does increase your risk for heart disease as well as for diabetes and stroke.
Triglycerides are measured as part of a blood test that measures your cholesterol. Normal triglyceride levels are below 150. High levels are 200 or above.
What causes high triglycerides?
Conditions that may cause high triglycerides include:
- Poorly controlled diabetes.
- An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).
- Kidney disease.
- Regularly eating more calories than you burn.
- Drinking a lot of alcohol.
Certain medicines may also raise triglycerides. These medicines include:
Certain types of high cholesterol and high triglycerides are caused by genetics.
What are the symptoms?
High triglycerides usually do not cause symptoms.
Sometimes high triglycerides have a genetic cause. But this is not common. In this case, high triglyceride levels may occur along with visible fatty deposits under the skin called xanthomas.
In rare cases, people who have very high levels of triglycerides may develop inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). This can cause sudden, severe abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and fever.
How can you lower your high triglycerides?
If you are overweight, losing weight may be the best way to lower triglycerides. You may be able to lower your triglycerides by eating fewer calories and increasing your activity. Other diet changes that might help include limiting fats and sugars, and limiting or not drinking alcohol.
If increasing your activity and watching calories do not work, you may also need medicine. Medicines called statins are commonly used to lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol. But drugs called nicotinic acid (or niacin) and fibrates seem to work better for lowering triglycerides. If you have high triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol, and low HDL ("good") cholesterol, you may take more than one type of medicine that lowers cholesterol.
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