The most common reason for checking triglycerides is as part of a lipid profile to estimate risk of development cardiovascular disease. Triglycerides are a form of lipid (fat), and are therefore included as part of a lipid profile. However, unlike cholesterol, which is very clearly an important cause of cardiovascular disease, the relationship between triglycerides and cardiovascular disease is less clear. Overall, the evidence is somewhat (but not totally) in favour of a role for triglycerides here, as a number of scientific studies (but not all) have suggested that high triglycerides do increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, most doctors would suggest that it is better to aim to keep your blood triglyceride concentrations low, particularly if you are at risk of cardiovascular disease for another reason.
Having high triglycerides can also lead to a serious medical condition called pancreatitis, which is inflammation of the pancreas gland. Therefore, if you get pancreatitis, triglyceride concentrations in the bloodstream should be checked to see if this is the cause. There are many other causes however.
Lipid profile, including triglycerides, is commonly tested by your GP when you reach the age of 40, as part of a routine cardiovascular health check. It will also be checked if you are already thought to be at risk of cardiovascular disease for another reason, such as having diabetes, high blood pressure, being a smoker, or being overweight.
Due to the link between high triglycerides and pancreatitis, triglyceride concentrations will be checked if you are diagnosed with this condition.
Having high triglycerides is thought to put you at higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. It isn't totally clear whether it is the triglycerides themselves which are harmful, or an underlying condition, such as diabetes or obesity, which is the problem. Conditions such as these are known to increase cardiovascular risk directly, as well as cause high triglycerides. Trying to work out whether triglycerides cause cardiovascular disease, or are just associated with it, has been the subject of many scientific studies but the answer is not 100% clear at present.
If your triglyceride concentration is very high (e.g. at least 10-15 mmol/L), this indicates you are at risk of pancreatitis. In these circumstances, it is important to try and lower your triglyceride levels, which might involve either drugs or lifestyle changes, depending on the cause.
There are many factors which can cause high triglycerides. Examples include a high fat or high sugar diet, high intake of alcohol, obesity and diabetes. Lifestyle changes can therefore be effective in reducing triglyceride levels. Drug treatments are also available if lifestyle changes are insufficient. There are also genetic factors which increase triglyceride levels.
If you are diabetic and your blood glucose cocentrations are out of control, triglyceride concentrations will be very high.
Triglyceride levels in the blood may change dramatically after a meal. Even fasting levels vary considerably from day to day. Because of the day to day variation modest changes in fasting triglycerides measured on different days are not considered to be unusual or abnormal.
This article was last reviewed on 29 May 2015. | This article was last modified on 8 November 2016.
The review date indicates when the article was last reviewed from beginning to end to ensure that it reflects the most current science. A review may not require any modifications to the article, so the two dates may not always agree.
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