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Triglyceride level

Definition

The triglyceride level is a laboratory test to measure the amount of triglycerides in your blood. Triglycerides are a type of fat.

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Your body makes some triglycerides. Triglycerides also come from the food you eat. Leftover 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.

Alternative Names

Triacylglycerol test

How the test is performed

A blood sample is needed.

How to prepare for the test

You should not eat for 8 to 12 hours before the test.

Alcohol and certain drugs may affect test results. Make sure your doctor knows what medicines you take, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements. Your doctor may tell you to stop taking certain medicines for a little while. Never stop taking any medicine without first talking to your doctor.

Drugs that can increase triglyceride measurements include beta blockers, cholestyramine, colestipol, estrogens, protease inhibitors, retinoids, thiazide diuretics, certain antipsychotics, and birth control pills.

Drugs that can decrease triglyceride measurements include ascorbic acid, asparaginase, clofibrate, fish oil, and statin medications.

How the test will feel

When the needle is inserted to draw blood, some people feel moderate pain, while others feel only a prick or stinging sensation. Afterward, there may be some throbbing.

Blood test

Why the test is performed

The most important use of this test is to help estimate your LDL cholesterol. This test is also done to help determine your risk of developing heart disease. A high triglyceride level may lead to atherosclerosis, which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. A high triglyceride level may also cause inflammation of your pancreas.

Persons with a high triglyceride level often have other conditions such as diabetes and obesity that also increase the chances of developing heart disease.

The triglyceride level is usually included in a lipid panel or coronary risk profile.

Normal Values

  • Normal: Less than 150 mg/dL
  • Borderline High: 150 - 199 mg/dL
  • High: 200 - 499 mg/dL
  • Very High: 500 mg/dL or above

Normal value ranges may vary slightly among different laboratories. Talk to your doctor 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:

Low triglyceride levels may be due to:

  • Low fat diet
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Malabsorption syndrome (conditions in which the small intestine does not absorb fats well)
  • Malnutrition

What the risks are

Veins and arteries vary in size from one patient to another, and from one side of the body to the other. Obtaining a blood sample from some people may be more difficult than from others. Other risks may include:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Fainting or feeling light-headed
  • Hematoma (blood accumulating under the skin)
  • Infection (a slight risk any time the skin is broken)

Special considerations

Pregnancy can interfere with test results.

References

Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults. Executive summary of the third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) expert panel on detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood cholesterol in adults (Adult Treatment Panel III). JAMA. 2001;285(19):2486-2497.

Implications of recent clinical trials for the National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III guidelines. Circulation. 2004 Jul 13; 110(2):227-39.

Semenkovich CF. Disorders of lipid metabolism. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 213.

Review Date:6/3/2012

Reviewed by:David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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