Triglyceride Level Test: Purpose, Risks and Results

The triglyceride level test is used to measure how much triglycerides are in your blood. Triglycerides are a type of fat that can be found in the bloodstream. The results of this test are helpful to your physician in determining your risk of developing heart disease. A different name for the test is a triacylglycerol test. (1)

Triglycerides are a form of fat or lipid. The body stores calories, which are not used immediately as triglycerides. These triglycerides travel through the bloodstream to provide energy for your muscles to function. Additional triglyceride enters your blood after eating. If you have more calories then your body requires, your triglyceride level may be elevated. (2)

Very low density lipoprotein (VLDLs) carries triglycerides in your bloodstream. VLDL is a type of lipoprotein, such as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or high-density lipoprotein (HDL). VLDL Measurements may be useful information if you and your physician are discussing ways to lower your triglyceride level. (3)

Why do I need the triglyceride level test?

Triglyceride level testing will help your doctor determine if you are at risk of developing heart disease. It makes it possible to estimate the level of LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream. It can indicate whether you have pancreatic inflammation and whether you are at risk of developing atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis occurs with the accumulation of fat in your arteries. You may be at increased risk for a heart attack or stroke.

You should complete a fat check-up every five years as part of your regular physical examination. The lipid profile makes it possible to evaluate your levels of:

  • HDL
  • LDL
  • cholesterol
  • triglycerides

If you are receiving treatment for high triglyceride levels, your physician will prescribe this test more frequently to ensure that your treatment is effective. If you suffer from prediabetes or diabetes, it is important to monitor your triglyceride levels regularly, as triglycerides increase when you do not maintain your blood sugar levels correctly.

Children may also require this test if they are at higher risk for developing heart disease. This includes those who are overweight or with a family history of heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure. Children at higher risk for heart disease will require this test between the ages of 2 and 10. Children less than two years of age are too young to be testing.

How do I prepare for the triglyceride test?

You need to fast from 9 to 14 hours before the test and drink only water during this period. Your physician will tell you how long you need to fast before the exam. It is also important to avoid alcohol for 24 hours before the test.

Your physician may ask you to discontinue certain medications before the test. You might want to speak to your physician about that.

There are many medications that may affect your test. They include:

  • clofibrate
  • colestipol
  • estrogens
  • ascorbic acid
  • asparaginase
  • beta-blockers
  • cholestyramine
  • fenofibrate (Tricor)
  • fish oil
  • gemfibrozil
  • nicotinic acid
  • retinoids
  • some antipsychotics
  • statins
  • contraceptive pills
  • protease inhibitors

How is the triglyceride level test performed?

The test is based on a blood sample that will be analysed by a laboratory. A health care professional will collect blood from a vein at the front of your elbow or the back of your hand. They will complete the following steps for obtaining the blood sample:

  1. They clean the site with an anti-septic and wrap an elastic band around your arm to let the blood fill the veins.
  2. They put a needle in your vein and pick up the blood from a tubing attached to the needle.
  3. After the tube is filled, they remove the rubber band and the needle. They then press against the puncture point using a cotton ball or gauze to prevent any bleeding.

A portable machine may also carry out the test. The machine takes a very small sample of blood on a stick and analyses your triglycerides in a lipid panel. You can often find such tests in mobile clinics or healthcare fairs. (2)

Furthermore, you can purchase a portable machine for monitoring your triglycerides at home. Another way of keeping an eye on your triglycerides at home is to mail a blood sample to a laboratory with a prepared package. You should speak to your physician to see if one of these home exams is a good option for you.

What are the risks associated with the triglyceride level test?

You may experience mild pain or discomfort as a result of your blood test. But there are a couple of risks associated with taking a blood sample. They include:

  • infection
  • excessive bleeding
  • dizziness and fainting
  • a build-up of blood under the skin, known as hematoma

What do the results mean?

The basic result categories for triglycerid levels are:

  • A normal rate of fasting is 150 milligrams per decilitres (mg/dL)
  • A high limit value is between 150 and 199 mg/dL.
  • A high level lies between 200 and 499 mg/dL.
  • An extremely high rate is above 500 mg/dL.

Hypertriglyceridemia is the medical term used to describe triglycerides raised in the blood.

Fasting levels are usually different from one day to the next. Triglycerides vary considerably when you eat food and may be 5 to 10 times higher than fasting levels.

You may develop pancreatitis if your fasting triglyceride level is greater than 1000 mg/dL. If you have triglyceride levels greater than 1000 mg/dL, you should start immediate treatment to reduce triglycerides.

If your triglycerides levels are high, your cholesterol can be high as well. It is referred to as hyperlipidemia.

There are a lot of reasons that your triglyceride level can be high. Some of these are caused by lifestyle that increases triglyceride levels. These include:

  • smoking
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • obese
  • excessive alcohol use
  • eat a low-protein and high-carb diet

There are also health problems that can lead to high triglyceride levels, such as:

  • kidney disease
  • cirrhosis
  • diabetes
  • genetic factors
  • hyperlipidemia
  • hypothyroidism
  • nephrotic syndrome
  • pancreatitis

Low triglyceride levels may be associated with:

Other health conditions that may be detected by triglyceride level testing include:

  • combined hyperlipidemia
  • dysbetalipoproteinemia
  • hypertriglyceridemia
  • lipoprotein lipase deficiency
  • suffered a stroke from atherosclerosis.

Pregnancy may affect the results of these tests.

The results mean several things to children. You should discuss this with your child’s physician to understand the significance of the outcomes and the appropriate course of action.

How can I control my triglyceride levels?

Studies show that carbs play an important role in controlling the level of triglycerides. High-carb diets, especially sugar, can increase triglyceride levels.

Exercise may also reduce triglyceride and raise HDL cholesterol. Even if you are not losing weight, exercise can help you master your triglyceride level.

The Mayo Clinic recommends lifestyle modifications to help treat high levels of triglycerides. Changes may include:

  • losing weight
  • reducing calories
  • Do not eat sugar and refined foods
  • Choose healthier fats, such as fats from foods of vegetable origin or fish
  • reduce your alcohol intake
  • do sufficient exercise, not less than 30 minutes with moderate intensity on most days of the week.

Treatments which focus on the primary cause of elevated triglycerides, such as the following, should be highly regarded:

  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • renal failure
  • alcohol-related disorder

Common medicines or supplements that may help you control your triglycerides include:

  • omega-3s
  • statins
  • niacin
  • fibrates

High levels of triglycerides and cholesterol are often seen in combination. When that happens, your therapy will focus on reducing both levels with help of medication and lifestyle changes.

It is important to work with your physician and dietician to reduce elevated levels of triglycerides through medication and lifestyle changes.

Failure to Thrive: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Hematocrit Test: Procedure, Low, High and Norman Ranges, Results