Triglyceride Levels Explained

High triglycerides, especially when coupled with high LDL cholesterol (also known as "bad" cholesterol), might place you at risk of having heart disease. But what are trigylcerides, what is a normal level, and how can the problem be prevented?

medical form with cholesterol and triglyceride lab tests checked
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What Are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of fat, or lipid, that accounts for the majority of fat in our diets. Triglycerides are important because they provide the body with the energy it needs to function on a daily basis. If you have an excess of triglycerides in the body, they will usually be stored as fat.

Triglycerides are either made in the liver or consumed in the diet and then absorbed into the body through the small intestine.

Additionally, triglycerides never travel to their destination in the body alone. They attach to a protein and become a lipoprotein referred to as a chylomicron or a very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL).

These lipoproteins are not very dense, or heavy. Therefore, along with low-density lipoproteins (LDL), they run the risk of potentially contributing to heart disease.

What Should My Triglyceride Levels Be?

Elevated levels of triglycerides also are a risk factor for heart disease. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine:

  • Triglyceride levels should be below 150 mg/dL (1.69 mmol/L).
  • Levels between 150 mg/dL (1.69 mmol/L ) and 199 mg/dL (2.25 mmol/L) are considered borderline high.
  • Levels between 200-499 mg/dL (2.26-5.63 mmol/L) are considered high.
  • Levels above 500 mg/dL (5.64 mmol/L) are considered extremely high.

Risk Factors

There are primary and secondary causes of hypertriglyceridemia or high triglyceride levels. Primary causes include various genetic disorders that affect the metabolism of triglycerides and/or cholesterol. Secondary causes are usually due either to excessive fat in the diet or underlying conditions that would include:

  • Diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Obesity
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Nephrotic syndrome

If any of these risk factors are present, your healthcare provider probably will recommend that you have a lipid panel performed more frequently (every one or two years as opposed to five years).

Health Effects of High Triglycerides

While high triglycerides may may place you at increased risk for coronary heart disease, this fact has not been conclusively proven.

However, what is known for sure is that elevated triglyceride levels are strongly associated with a number of conditions that clearly do increase cardiovascular risk, such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, elevated LDL levels, and obesity. This means that most people who have high triglycerides are at elevated risk, and should be taking aggressive steps to reduce that risk. 

In addition, very high triglyceride levels can produce pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, which can be a very dangerous condition.

Treatment

Even though the verdict is still out on whether or not high triglyceride levels alone can cause heart disease, it is still important to restore them back to their normal levels.

High triglyceride levels are initially treated with a low-fat, low-carbohydrate diet and lifestyle modifications. When this does not work, your healthcare provider may want to add medication to help lower your triglyceride levels.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ahmed S, Ahmed O. Biochemistry, lipids.StatPearls. Updated June 3, 2020.

  2. MedlinePlus. Triglycerides.

  3. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. High blood triglycerides.