While many people are aware of the dangers associated with unhealthy cholesterol levels, some of us may be overlooking another form of fat lurking in our bloodstreams: triglycerides. While elevated triglyceride levels can be life-threatening, making changes to your lifestyle and certain medications may help lower them.
Triglycerides are certain fats found in your blood. According to the American Heart Association, calories that aren’t used by the body right away are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells, ready to be utilized in case the body needs a boost of energy prior to the next meal. When calorie intake exceeds the amount of calories burned, excess triglycerides may accumulate. While triglycerides and cholesterol serve different purposes, both are forms of fat that travel in the bloodstream and can lead to health problems if allowed to build up beyond recommended levels.
It is believed that high triglyceride levels can result in hardening of the arteries and could lead to a stroke or heart attack. According to an article published by the Mayo Clinic, experts aren’t sure how it happens. A study published in the Dec. 11, 2001, issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that high triglyceride levels raise a person’s risk of suffering a stroke. High triglyceride levels may also be a sign of other health issues, such as diabetes.
There are likely to be no symptoms associated with initial elevation of triglyceride levels, highlighting the importance of periodic triglyceride testing, particularly among those who may have a family history of high triglycerides or coronary disease or who are obese.
Interpreting the Numbers
Triglyceride levels are checked through blood tests conducted following an overnight fast. The test is typically done in conjunction with a test for cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association notes the National Cholesterol Education Program’s guidelines for triglyceride levels show that any result less than 150 mg/dl (milligrams per deciliter) falls in the normal range. Levels falling in the range of 150 to 199 mg/dl is a borderline high result, 200 to 499 mg/dl is high, and 500 or above is considered very high.
Prevention and Treatment
The American Heart Association states that lifestyle changes are the most effective steps you can take to lower triglyceride levels. It recommends cutting calories, eating less saturated and trans fats, substituting unsaturated fats for saturated fats, eating more fruits and vegetables, reducing alcohol intake, exercising more and losing weight if you are overweight. Medications are also available to help lower triglyceride levels. The Mayo Clinic states that niacin or fibrates can be effective treatments, as well as some statins that may also be used to help address cholesterol problems.