1. What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat derived from the food we eat. Any calories we take in that aren't used right away for energy are converted into triglycerides. Triglycerides move through the blood and are stored in fat cells. Our hormones regulate when triglycerides are released from fat cells to be used as energy between meals.
2. Why should I care about my triglyceride level?
A high blood triglyceride level--called hypertriglyceridemia--increases your risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. It's linked to an increased risk for diabetes. High triglycerides are also a risk factor for chronic pancreatitis--inflammation of the pancreas.
3. What causes high triglycerides?
Excess triglycerides occur most often due to inactivity and being overweight. But they can also be triggered by high alcohol consumption, diabetes, or an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). Hypertriglyceridemia can also be a side effect of some medications, including birth control, corticosteroids, beta blockers, and others. High triglycerides also can stem from a genetic condition.
4. How do I know if I have high triglycerides?
A simple blood test, called a fasting lipid profile, measures cholesterol and triglycerides. If you've had your cholesterol tested and know your numbers, it's likely your triglycerides were included. Doctors usually recommend men and women have the test at least every five years, beginning at age 20. People who have high triglycerides or are at risk for heart disease may need to have the test more often. Ask your doctor when you should be tested.
5. What does my triglyceride level mean?
Everyone has triglycerides in their body. And at normal levels, triglycerides are healthy. Talk to your doctor if your levels are above normal. Below are the ranges for triglyceride levels:
Normal: Less than 150 mg/dL
Borderline-high: 150 to 199 mg/dL
High: 200 to 499 mg/dL
Very high: 500 mg/dL or higher
6. What lifestyle changes can I make to lower my triglycerides or keep them under control?
If you're overweight, reduce your calorie intake to achieve a normal weight. Exercise at least 30 minutes each day. Eat a diet low in saturated and trans fats. Drink alcohol only in moderation--one drink a day for women and two for men at most. And try to reduce your carbohydrate intake to no more than 60 percent of total calories. A diet high in carbohydrates raises triglyceride levels.
7. Are there medications that can help?
Lifestyle changes are the primary treatment for hypertriglyceridemia. But there are medications that may help some people. If your doctor prescribes medicine for high triglyceride levels, it's still very important to exercise and eat a healthy diet.
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