High triglycerides: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

By: Emily Lunardo | Cholesterol | Monday, October 31, 2016 - 01:00 PM


Triglycerides are a type of fat converted from any excess calories we do not immediately use.

Mainly derived from fat and carbohydrates we eat, triglyceride stocks are used for energy in-between the meals, but when we take in more than we burn, that’s when the problem arises.

Although cholesterol and fat are essential for the body, keeping your levels within the norm is imperative, as high levels increase the risk of serious health issues, especially cardiovascular ailments.

The National Cholesterol Education Program has created guidelines for normal triglyceride levels:

  • Normal triglyceride levels: below 150 mg/dL
  • Borderline high triglyceride levels: 150 to 199 mg/dL
  • High triglyceride levels: 200 to 499 mg/dL
  • Very high triglyceride levels: 500 mg/dL or higher

Causes and symptoms of high triglycerides

The most common cause of high triglycerides is uncontrolled diabetes. Being overweight or obese, eating a lot of carbohydrates or sugar, consuming high amounts of alcohol, having hypothyroidism, kidney disease, certain inherited lipid disorders, and being on estrogen therapy for menopause symptom management can raise your triglyceride levels, too. High triglycerides can also be a symptom of a metabolic disorder, which increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

Generally, high triglycerides don’t present any symptoms, but if they are caused by a genetic disorder, you may develop fatty deposits beneath the skin.

Other causes of high triglycerides

Certain medications used to treat other conditions may increase high triglyceride levels as part of their side effects. This includes:

  • Beta-blockers: A commonly prescribed medication for the treatment of blood pressure, chest pain, and heart rhythm problems
  • Diuretics: Used to help lower blood pressure by allowing your body to get rid of more fluids. It can also be used to treat water retention symptoms.
  • Corticosteroids: Used to treat severe cases of pain and inflammation.
  • Retinoids: Used to treat skin condition such as severe acne.
  • Protease inhibitors: A class of antiviral medication to treat HIV.
  • Birth control pill: Contains estrogen that can increase triglyceride levels.

Rare causes of high triglycerides

Certain medical conditions and states can cause high triglyceride levels, but they are not as common a trigger as some of the better-known causes. These include:

Familial hypertriglyceridemia: A rare genetic disorder that causes high triglyceride levels that exceed 1,000 mg/dL. As the name suggests, this condition runs in families with members having abnormal levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), low-density lipoprotein (LDL), and triglycerides.

Pregnancy: Triglyceride levels rise in expectant mothers and tend to peak during the third trimester. However, after giving birth, most women experience a return to normal levels.

Liver disease: The liver plays an important role in processing fats. If it becomes compromised in some way, such as in the case of fatty liver disease, overproduction and accumulation of fat in liver cells can occur. This leads to excessive amounts of inflammation and even death if no treatment is implemented. Proper liver function can be disrupted by alcoholism, malnutrition, pregnancy, poisoning, diabetes, hypothyroidism, kidney disease, and lupus.

High triglycerides and cholesterol: What is the difference?

Your body needs a certain amount of fat to help promote its cell structure and metabolic function. The term “fat” is broad and refers to multiple different forms that your body creates or receives from food. Triglycerides are one form that your body produces to store excess energy from your diet. The term “cholesterol” is broad and used to describe a type of fat floating around in your bloodstream; these include HDL and LDL. Cholesterol is produced by the body but it can also be derived from food. It is used for cell and hormone production.

When a person has high levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, combined with high levels of triglycerides, the chances of plaque formation in their arteries increases, increasing their risk of atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries).

Not all cholesterol is bad, however, as HDL, or “good” cholesterol, helps to keep cholesterol from building up inside your arteries and transports it to the liver instead, where it can be expelled from the body.

You need balanced levels of both cholesterol and triglycerides to maintain good cardiovascular health.

Treatment options for high triglycerides

Having high triglycerides can raise serious health concerns, so it’s important to boost HDL cholesterol and lower triglyceride levels. Here are some tips in order to lower triglycerides.

  • Lose weight.
  • Cut out sugar – the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends only five percent of your daily calories come from added sugar.
  • Increase your fiber intake.
  • Limit fructose – fructose is a type of sugar that can contribute to high triglyceride levels.
  • Eat a moderately low-fat diet – a moderately low-fat diet has been shown to be more effective at lowering triglyceride levels, compared to a strict low-fat diet. The AHA recommends that 25 to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from fat.
  • Be mindful of the fat you eat – there are good fats and bad fats. Avoid saturated and trans fats, and consume more monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat typically found in olive oil, for example.
  • Increase your fish intake – try salmon and sardines.
  • Exercise
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Take triglyceride-lowering drugs if necessary and recommended by your doctor.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Control diabetes if you have it.

By following these tips and working close with your doctor, you can have much success in lowering your triglyceride levels and protecting your heart.

Related: Foods that lower triglycerides naturally

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