What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are fats (lipids) found in the blood. During eating, the human body converts excess or additional calories into triglycerides. The triglycerides are stored in the fat cells and they are later released by hormones in order to provide the body with energy between meals. The accumulation of triglycerides along with the function of energy reserve, takes place inside the cells that compose adipose tissue. 

However, a diet that is too rich in fats and sugars may cause an increase in triglycerides if more calories are ingested than burned.

What is the purpose of measuring blood triglycerides?

High levels of triglycerides in the blood are a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. This exam is usually performed together with examinations for total cholesterol, LDL and HDL.

The test is indicated in patients being treated for high triglycerides levels who need frequent monitoring or patients who have an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases. Other risk factors that indicate the necessity of this test include family history of heart disease or other health conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. The test can also be performed as part of routine examinations used to detect a lipid disorder, to monitor the patient’s response to the medications prescribed for lipid disorders or if the patient is experiencing uncommon symptoms such as xanthomas (yellow fatty deposits under the surface of the skin).

Standard of preparation

In general, the examination is performed in the morning. It is recommended that the patient fast for approximately 12 hours prior to the examination and have a light meal the night before.

Moreover, there are many medications that may affect or alter the results of the test. Therefore, it is important to disclose any information about prescription and non-prescription medications as well as natural herbs or substances to the doctor.

Is the examination dangerous or painful?

The examination is neither dangerous nor painful. The patient may experience a slight pinch at the entrance of the needle in the arm.

How is the exam performed?

The exam is performed through a simple blood test sample.

The test results may indicate high levels of triglycerides in the blood, which is dangerous because it increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The causes of high levels of triglycerides may include:

  • Smoking
  • Family history
  • High-calorie diet that is rich in saturated fats, cholesterol and sugars
  • Physical inactivity
  • Age
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Being overweight or obesity
  • Diabetes (type 2)
  • Kidney disease
  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland)

Triglycerides can be lowered through lifestyle changes and medications. It is important to attempt to lower the triglycerides and monitor the progress.

Healthy lifestyle changes that may lower triglyceride levels:

  • Healthy diet
  • Reducing the intake of calories
  • Losing excess weight
  • Ingesting fats that are healthy (olive, canola oils, peanuts, salmon)
  • Regular physical exercise
  • Avoiding sugary and refined foods
  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol consumption

Furthermore, some of the medications that may lower triglyceride levels include:

  • Fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Fibrates (fenofibrate or gemfibrozil)
  • Statins (cholesterol-lowering medications)
  • Niacin (nicotinic acid)