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Triglycerides: Why do they matter?

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Sep 3, 2022.

If you've been keeping an eye on your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, there's something else you might need to monitor: your triglycerides.

Having a high level of triglycerides in your blood can increase your risk of heart disease. But the same lifestyle choices that promote overall health can help lower your triglycerides, too.

What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in your blood.

When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn't need to use right away into triglycerides. The triglycerides are stored in your fat cells. Later, hormones release triglycerides for energy between meals.

If you regularly eat more calories than you burn, particularly from high-carbohydrate foods, you may have high triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia).

What's considered normal?

A simple blood test can reveal whether your triglycerides fall into a healthy range:

Your doctor will usually check for high triglycerides as part of a cholesterol test, which is sometimes called a lipid panel or lipid profile. You'll have to fast before blood can be drawn for an accurate triglyceride measurement.

What's the difference between triglycerides and cholesterol?

Triglycerides and cholesterol are different types of lipids that circulate in your blood:

Why do high triglycerides matter?

High triglycerides may contribute to hardening of the arteries or thickening of the artery walls (arteriosclerosis) — which increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart disease. Extremely high triglycerides can also cause acute inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis).

High triglycerides are often a sign of other conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, including obesity and metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that includes too much fat around the waist, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol levels.

High triglycerides can also be a sign of:

Sometimes high triglycerides are a side effect of taking certain medications, such as:

What's the best way to lower triglycerides?

Healthy lifestyle choices are key:

What about medication?

If healthy lifestyle changes aren't enough to control high triglycerides, your doctor might recommend:

If your doctor prescribes medication to lower your triglycerides, take the medication as prescribed. And remember the significance of the healthy lifestyle changes you've made. Medications can help — but lifestyle matters, too.

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