Triglycerides are chemicals that contain and transport most of the fat from food. When triglyceride levels are high, it can be associated with coronary artery disease and stroke.
Causes may include:
- Excess triglyceride production in the body, usually related to genetic conditions
- Increased consumption of triglycerides from food sources
- Kidney problems
- Liver disease
It is more common for older adults, especially men, to have high triglycerides. Factors that may increase your risk of high triglycerides include:
- A family history of hyperlipidemia
- A diet high in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol
- Postmenopause in women
- Lack of exercise
- Excess alcohol intake
- Certain conditions, including:
- Certain medications, such as birth control pills and isotretinoin, which is used to treat acne:
- Birth control pills
- Isotretinoin, used to treat acne
High triglyceride levels usually do not cause symptoms. Very high levels of triglycerides can cause:
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting—associated with acute pancreatitis
Elevated triglyceride levels can increase your risk of atherosclerosis . This is a dangerous hardening of the arteries. It can end up blocking blood flow. In some cases, this may result in:
This condition is diagnosed with blood tests. These tests measure the levels of triglycerides in the blood.
Triglycerides may be part of a fasting lipid profile blood test including:
- Total cholesterol
- LDL (bad cholesterol)
- HDL (good cholesterol)
Different major medical organizations have different recommendations for screening high triglycerides:
- For adults
- The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) advises that people have their lipids checked at least once every 5 years, starting at age 20.
- The United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) advises routine screening in men 35 years of age or older and women 45 years of age or older.
- For children:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises lipid screening for children at risk, such as those with a family history of hyperlipidemia or significant obesity starting between 2 to 8 years of age.
- The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) advises routine screening at 9 to 11 years old and again at 12 to 17 years old.
Your doctor may advise more frequent or earlier testing if you have a:
- Family history of hyperlipidemia
- Risk factor or disease that may cause hyperlipidemia
- Complication that may result from hyperlipidemia
Treatment is not only aimed at correcting triglyceride levels, but also at lowering the overall risk for heart disease and stroke.
Dietary changes can help to lower triglyceride levels. These may include:
- Eating a diet low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol
- Avoiding alcohol or drinking alcohol in moderation
- Eating more high-fiber foods
Lifestyle changes that can help lower triglyceride levels include:
There are a number of drugs available, such as statins , fibrates, and niacin to treat this condition. These may help prevent complications from very high triglyceride levels, such as pancreatitis. They may also help lower the risk for heart disease. They may be used alone or together in different combinations. Talk to your doctor about whether these medications are right for you.
These medications are best used as additions to diet and exercise and should not replace healthy lifestyle changes.
To help reduce your chance of getting hyperlipidemia, follow this plan:
- Have cholesterol tests starting at age 20—or younger if you have risk factors.
- Eat a diet low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
- If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
- Drink alcohol in moderation—2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly. Talk with your doctor first.
- If you have diabetes , control your blood sugar.
- Talk to your doctor about medications you are taking. Some may have side effects that cause high triglyceride levels .
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review BoardAlan Drabkin, MD
- Review Date: 03/2018 -
- Update Date: 05/02/2014 -