What are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood and the foods you eat. They are the most common type of fat in your body and are a major source of energy.

When you eat a high-calorie meal, your body uses the calories it needs for quick energy and converts the excess into triglycerides that are stored as fat to use as energy later.

In normal amounts, triglycerides are essential to good health.

Triglycerides are usually measured when you have a blood test called a lipoprotein analysis, which is done to measure your cholesterol levels.

Guidelines for triglyceride levels
(measured as milligrams per deciliter of blood)
normal less than 150 mg/dL
borderline high 150 to 199 mg/dL
high 200 to 499 mg/dL
very high 500 mg/dL or higher

Researchers have long studied whether high triglyceride levels alone are a problem or whether, like high cholesterol, they predict your risk for coronary artery disease (CAD). No clear answer has been found, but doctors still believe it is important to reduce high triglycerides as one of the steps to prevent heart disease.

Certain inherited (genetic) conditions such as familial lipid disorders also may cause high triglycerides and/or high cholesterol, but these are a less common cause.

What causes high triglycerides?

There are several causes of high triglycerides, including obesity, poorly controlled diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, estrogen replacement therapy, and excess consumption of calories, carbohydrates, saturated fats, and alcohol. Some medications may cause elevated triglyceride levels, including birth control pills, diuretics, beta-blockers, steroids, and some of the newer antipsychotic medications.

Algunas enfermedades hereditarias del metabolismo de los lípidos también pueden presentar elevaciones de las cifras de colesterol y o de triglicéridos, pero estas suelen ser mucho menos frecuentes.

What are the symptoms of high triglycerides?

Most people with borderline-high or high triglycerides won't have any symptoms. People who have genetic causes of very high triglycerides may have xanthomas, which are visible fatty deposits under the skin. In rare cases, people who have very high levels of triglycerides may develop inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which can cause sudden, severe abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and fever.

How can I lower my high triglycerides?

You may be able to lower your triglycerides by first making lifestyle changes. It is often easier to lower triglycerides with lifestyle modifications than it is to lower LDL cholesterol with such changes.

Lifestyle modifications to lower triglycerides include:

•  Losing weight to decrease body fat. Triglycerides are stored as fat in your tissues and muscles.

Eating fewer calories.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet that limits high-sugar foods (such as cookies, soda, and fruit juices) and carbohydrates.

Reducing fats in your diet, especially saturated fats.

Reducing or eliminating alcohol.


Some people need medications, such as statins, nicotinic acids, or fibric acid derivatives (fibrates), to lower their triglyceride levels, especially if their levels are very high or if they have other risk factors for CAD. These medications are also used to treat high cholesterol. Often people who are being treated for high triglycerides also have high LDL and low HDL cholesterol levels.

Generally recommendations are:

•  Triglyceride levels of 150 mg/dL to 200 mg/dL.
Reach your target for lowering LDL (according to guidelines for CAD risk), intensify weight loss, and increase physical activity.

Triglyceride levels of 200 mg/dL to 499 mg/dL.
If levels remain this high after reaching your target for lowering LDL, intensify LDL-lowering medication or add nicotinic acids or fibric acid derivatives.

Triglyceride levels of 500 mg/dL or higher.
Lower triglycerides first to prevent pancreatitis. Try a very low-fat diet (less than 15% of all calories from fat), lose weight, increase activity, and add fibric acid derivatives or nicotinic acids.
Ramiro Antuña de Alaiz
Education Treatment Unit
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