Written on June 28, 2023 by Amy Harris, MS, RN, CNM. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.
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One out of every three American adults has triglyceride levels that are too high. Are you one of them? Even if your levels are normal now, they are likely to rise as you get older. High triglyceride levels increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and even death. Both triglycerides and body weight are important measures of heart health.
Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) found in your blood. Your body digests the food you eat and uses calories in the food for energy. If you eat too many calories, your body cleverly repurposes these extra calories into a storable energy form for future use. What is that storable energy? Triglycerides are how your body stores unused energy in your fat cells.
What’s the difference between cholesterol and triglycerides? While they are both types of fat found in foods you eat and made by your body, they work differently in your body. Your body does not use cholesterol for energy storage. Instead, your body uses cholesterol for building cells and chemical messengers. Cholesterol comes in two varieties — high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
Health problems arise if you consistently eat too many calories or do not burn enough calories. Excess, unused calories lead to higher levels of triglycerides. Over time, these triglycerides can cause serious health consequences, particularly for your heart and pancreas.
You may only know if you take a blood test. Because high triglyceride levels do not usually cause noticeable symptoms, regular triglyceride and cholesterol screening is critical to your heart disease and stroke prevention plan.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that most healthy adults have their cholesterol (including triglycerides) checked every 4-6 years. They advise that children and young adults should have at least one initial cholesterol panel screening between ages 7 and 9 and then again between 17-21 years old. Certain health conditions or family histories require more frequent testing. Some reasons to screen earlier or more frequently are [2,5]:
Healthcare providers consider any triglyceride level below 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or less than 1.7 millimoles per liter (mmol/L) normal. They start to worry as levels rise above 150 and use the following risk categories to describe increasing triglyceride levels [2-4]:
Are you wondering how your triglyceride and cholesterol numbers measure up to these standards? There are now convenient at-home cholesterol and triglyceride tests, like the Everlywell Cholesterol and Lipid Test, to make regular screening much more manageable.
Triglycerides matter because they influence your risk for cardiovascular disease. High triglycerides harden your arteries (blood vessels) and form plaques (called atherosclerosis). If you have high levels of triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol levels, you are more likely to have a heart attack and stroke. Extremely high triglycerides can also cause acute pancreas inflammation (pancreatitis).
Keeping your triglyceride and cholesterol levels healthy is crucial for living a long and healthy life. Lifestyle changes such as reducing your sugar, refined carbohydrate, and alcohol consumption combined with exercise and medication can help reduce your triglyceride levels before it is too late.
Yes. People who are overweight or obese (by body mass index or BMI) are more likely to have high triglyceride levels. Higher triglyceride levels mean your body stores more fat, leading to more fat tissue (adipose tissue) and, therefore, higher body weight, waist circumference, and body mass index.
High triglyceride levels can also be a part of a more extensive metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a term used by healthcare providers used to describe when someone has three or more of the following risk factors for heart disease :
People with metabolic syndrome have an increased risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes compared with those who don’t have it. The more conditions from the list above that you have, the greater your risk for heart disease and diabetes.
No, but the two are definitely related. Being overweight or obese changes your metabolism and how your body processes triglycerides. Many of the same conditions, diets, or lifestyle choices cause both high triglycerides and weight gain, so it can seem like having high triglycerides might cause weight gain. These risk factors for both high triglycerides and gaining weight are [1-3,7]:
High triglycerides can also be a symptom of other conditions related to weight gain, such as type 2 diabetes, low levels of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism), diseases of the liver or kidneys, and other inherited conditions that impact how your body metabolizes fat.[3,8]
Managing your cholesterol and triglyceride levels is crucial to maintaining your overall health. Detecting elevated triglyceride levels early on allows you to make changes now, preventing or reducing the severity of heart disease, diabetes, or stroke-related conditions later in life.
The Everlywell Cholesterol & Lipids Test lets you check three types of cholesterol lipids and triglyceride levels through easy sample collection at home.
Healthcare providers can use your triglyceride and cholesterol levels to estimate your risk for future heart attacks or cardiovascular disease and determine treatment plans. You can also monitor for any progress you might make as you work to follow a healthier diet, move your body more, or cut back on alcohol intake. Sometimes seeing the actual numbers go down can be powerful positive reinforcement.
Virtual telehealth clinicians can be a part of your heart healthcare team via Everlywell Virtual Care Visits. Combining regular preventive screenings for high cholesterol, triglycerides, and diabetes with personalized weight care management through the Everlywell Weight Care+ program (which may include a GLP-1 Rx if appropriate) can offer you more effective, personalized, and accessible healthcare to keep you healthy today and tomorrow.