The triglyceride level is a blood test to measure the amount of triglycerides in your blood. Triglycerides are a type of fat.
Your body makes some triglycerides. Triglycerides also come from the food you eat. Extra calories are turned into triglycerides and stored in fat cells for later use. If you eat more calories than your body needs, your triglyceride level may be high.
A test for high blood cholesterol levels is a related measurement.
Maybe you've been eating fast food more often than you should, or you're not getting your recommended two-and-a-half hours of exercise each week. Or, it could be that you smoke, or your blood pressure is too high. Well, for whatever reason, you may be concerned about your risk of getting heart disease. Well, a few tests can help you learn that risk, so you can start making healthy lifestyle changes to reduce it. A coronary risk profile is a group of blood tests that measure your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Why is it important to know these levels? Because if you have too much of these substances in your blood from eating foods like burgers and French fries, they can clog your arteries. Eventually your arteries can become so clogged that you'll have a heart attack or stroke. Men should have their cholesterol tested by the time they're 35. Women should have it checked by age 45. If you have a condition like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or high blood pressure, have your cholesterol checked now, no matter what your age. To measure your cholesterol, your doctor will give you a blood test. If you're also having your triglyceride level checked, you may be told not to eat or drink anything for 8 to 12 hours before the test. Depending upon your heart risk, the doctor may measure just your total cholesterol level, or your total cholesterol along with your LDL, or bad cholesterol, HDL, or good cholesterol, and triglycerides. If you're of average risk of getting heart disease, your goal is to have total cholesterol of less than 200 milligrams per deciliter, LDL cholesterol lower than 130 milligrams per deciliter, HDL cholesterol higher than 40 milligrams per deciliter if you're a man, or 50 if you're a woman -- the higher the better, and triglycerides of less than 150 also, the lower the better. Although some illnesses, like arthritis, can raise your cholesterol level, generally having high cholesterol means that you're at increased risk for heart disease and stroke. It's a sign you need to work harder to keep your heart healthy. If your cholesterol levels are normal, that's great! That means that you're eating right, you're exercising, and you're taking good care of your health. You don't need to have another cholesterol test for about five years. But if your cholesterol level is high, or you've already got heart disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes, you'll need to have your cholesterol levels checked more often. Keeping close tabs on your cholesterol and triglyceride levels is one way that you can take charge of your health, and change it for the better.
How the Test is Performed
A blood sample is needed. Most of the time blood is drawn from a vein located on the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand.
How to Prepare for the Test
You should not eat for 8 to 12 hours before the test.
Alcohol and some medicines can interfere with blood test results.
- Make sure your health care provider knows what medicines you take, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements.
- Your provider will tell you if you need to stop taking any medicines before you have this test.
- DO NOT stop or change your medicines without talking to your provider first.
How the Test will Feel
You may feel slight pain or a sting when the needle is inserted. You may also feel some throbbing at the site after the blood is drawn.
Why the Test is Performed
Triglycerides are usually measured together with other blood fats. Often it is done to help determine your risk of developing heart disease. A high triglyceride level may lead to atherosclerosis, which increases your risk for heart attack and stroke.
A high triglyceride level may also cause swelling of your pancreas (called pancreatitis).
Results may indicate:
- 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 above
Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your provider about the meaning of your specific test results.
The examples above show the common measurements for results for these tests. Some laboratories use different measurements or may test different specimens.
What Abnormal Results Mean
High triglyceride levels may be due to:
- Cirrhosis or liver damage
- Diet low in protein and high in carbohydrates
- Underactive thyroid
- Nephrotic syndrome (a kidney disorder)
- Other medicines such as female hormones
- Poorly controlled diabetes
- Disorder passed down through families in which there are high amounts of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood
Overall, the treatment of elevated triglyceride levels focuses on increased exercise and changes in the diet. Drugs to lower triglyceride levels may be used to prevent pancreatitis for levels above 500 mg/dL.
Low triglyceride levels may be due to:
Pregnancy can affect test results.
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Semenkovich CF. Disorders of lipid metabolism. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 206.
Stone NJ, Robinson JG, Lichtenstein AH, et al. Treatment of blood cholesterol to reduce atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease risk in adults: synopsis of the 2013 American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association cholesterol guideline. Ann Intern Med. 2014;160(5):339-343. PMID: 24474185
Last reviewed on: 7/25/2018
Reviewed by: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.