Triglycerides: Definition, Levels, Testing

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Blood vials with triglyceride test label -- Triglycerides: Definition, Levels, Testing

What are triglycerides?

The main storage form of fat in the body. Most are found in fat tissue, but some circulate in the bloodstream to provide fuel for the body’s cells. The triglyceride molecule is composed of three fatty acid chains attached to a glycerol molecule. The body can break down the triglycerides in the foods you eat and can also break down and recombine other molecules, such as fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, to make triglycerides.

How to lower triglycerides

Having high levels of triglycerides in the blood can increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease. Having very high triglycerides can also increase the risk of pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas. Because blood triglycerides are naturally higher after a meal, they should be measured after 8–12 hours of fasting for meaningful results.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends that people with diabetes strive to get their triglyceride levels below 150 mg/dl. The following steps can help:

  • Control your blood glucose levels.
  • Limit your intake of saturated fat.
  • Get more fiber in your diet.
  • Eat more fatty fish.
  • Lose excess weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Drink in moderation or not at all.

If lifestyle measures alone don’t adequately control your triglyceride levels — or if your levels are 200 mg/dl or higher to begin with — your doctor may prescribe one of a class of drugs called fibric acid derivatives, such as fenofibrate (brand name TriCor and others) or gemfibrozil (Lopid). Prescription niacin (such as Niaspan) is sometimes also used to lower triglyceride levels.

The class of drugs popularly known as “statins,” which includes atorvastatin (Lipitor, Torvast), fluvastatin (Lescol), lovastatin (Mevacor, Altocor, Altoprev), pravastatin (Pravachol, Selektine, Lipostat), rosuvastatin (Crestor), and simvastatin (Zocor, Lipex), is also sometimes used, especially when a person also has high low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol levels.

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