Triglyceride levels are one key marker of heart health. According to the CDC, it is recommended that adults have triglyceride levels checked (along with other lipids) every five years. Because high triglyceride levels rarely cause symptoms, it is important to have this blood test performed regularly to ensure that your heart is remaining healthy. If your triglyceride levels do come back as elevated, there are many different ways that you and your doctor can work together to lower them.
What are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat that originate from the food we eat as well as the extra calories we ingest. The calories ingested are stored and used as an energy source by the body. When needing a source of energy, your body breaks down triglycerides that are stored in the liver and blood. So, what happens when you have more triglycerides than needed?
Excess triglycerides end up stored in the liver and the fat cells of the body. The stored triglycerides will wait in these areas until they are needed as an energy source. If you don’t burn enough energy to utilize the triglycerides that your body has stored, then they won’t have anywhere to go. High blood triglycerides that are left untreated can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease. Therefore, it is important to get your triglyceride levels checked regularly and take action right away if one of your levels comes back abnormal.
Triglycerides vs. Cholesterol
Many people wonder if triglycerides are the same thing as cholesterol. To put it simply, the answer is no. Triglycerides and cholesterol are similar to each other in some ways but they serve totally different purposes in the body.
- Triglycerides come from the food we eat and are utilized by the body as an energy source.
- Cholesterol is produced by the liver and used as a building block for certain substances in the body, such as vitamins and hormones.
Triglycerides and cholesterol are both included in a lipid panel, which, as mentioned, is a type of blood test that a doctor can order to evaluate a patient’s heart health. Sometimes, abnormalities in triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels can exist together. Many patients who struggle with metabolic issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure also experience abnormal lipid levels.
Causes of Elevated Triglycerides
Triglyceride levels tend to get high in individuals who eat more calories than they burn. Hypertriglyceridemia (high triglyceride levels) can result from diets that are high in fat, sugar, white flour and fructose. Certain medications may also raise triglyceride levels, such as birth control, blood pressure medications and steroids. Make sure to inform your doctor of any medications that you are currently taking before having your triglyceride levels checked.
Other lifestyle factors that may cause an increase in triglyceride levels include: obesity, uncontrolled diabetes, alcohol abuse, smoking and living a sedentary lifestyle.
Many of these risk factors go hand in hand. For example, most people who are overweight also struggle with poor diet control. High triglycerides tend to be related to metabolic syndromes like diabetes and hypothyroidism. Triglycerides start to build up when they aren’t being broken down fast enough, which can occur due to a “low” (slow) metabolism.
Symptoms of High Triglycerides
There are usually no clear symptoms of high triglycerides which is why it is so important to have blood work done regularly to monitor these levels before they get out of hand.
In cases of severely high triglyceride levels, an individual may experience chest pain, numbness, dizziness or confusion. Consequently, when triglyceride levels get too high, the blood supply can become blocked to the heart and brain. Very high triglyceride levels can also cause fat deposits to develop under the skin and pancreatitis.
Diagnosis of High Triglycerides
If you suspect your triglycerides may be high, your doctor can order a lipid panel which will measure your levels, as well as check your cholesterol, LDL and HDL levels. Generally, triglyceride levels are considered normal if they are below 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Elevated triglyceride levels fall anywhere between 200 mg/dL and 499 mg/dL, and very high triglyceride levels are 500 mg/dL or above.
Visit UCF Health’s cardiologist, Dr. Bernard Gros, who specializes in lipid disorders
UCF Health’s Dr. Bernard Gros is a board certified cardiologist who specializes in lipid disorders like high triglycerides. Dr. Gros completed his medical degree at Emory University School of Medicine. He completed a residency in Internal Medicine at University of Michigan, followed by a fellowship in Cardiology at the same location. Dr. Gros has been with UCF Health College of Medicine since 2011, as one of the founding health care providers.
At UCF Health, our cardiologists use a collaborative care approach to serve patients in the best way possible and show you how to prevent heart disease. We strive to ensure that all members of the health care team are on board with the treatment plan and facilitate clear communication across specialties.
Treatment of High Triglycerides
The goal of treatment for individuals with hypertriglyceridemia is to protect the heart and reduce the risk of pancreatitis.
The best treatment approach for managing high triglycerides will vary for each patient. For mild cases, lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes and incorporating regular exercise may be enough to get triglycerides down to a healthy level. Your doctor may recommend special dietary modifications, such as lowering your carbohydrate intake and increasing fiber. Exercising regularly can also help to burn fat and lower triglyceride levels.
If lifestyle modifications alone aren’t enough to lower triglyceride levels, your doctor may recommend that you take medications. Common medications for hypertriglyceridemia include statins, fibrates, niacin and fish oil.
Statins work to lower cholesterol in the blood and liver which in turn affects your triglyceride levels. Statins specifically lower LDL levels (also known as the “bad” cholesterol). Some patients experience hypertriglyceridemia along with other conditions, like high cholesterol. If this is the case for you, then statins may be an effective approach to lowering your triglyceride levels.
Fibrates can also be used to lower triglyceride levels. This medication may also raise HDL levels (the “good” cholesterol). However, there are some safety concerns regarding the use of fibrates in combination with other medications. Talk with your cardiologist to determine which medications will work best for you.
Also known as vitamin B3, niacin can significantly lower triglyceride levels in some patients but it may affect glycemic control in diabetic patients. Niacin or Vitamin B3 can be purchased over the counter as a daily supplement but when used to treat triglyceride levels, it is prescribed at a higher strength.
Many people take fish oil as a daily supplement for a number of reasons, most commonly to support the cardiovascular system. Fish oil can be effective in preventing heart disease and lowering triglyceride levels because it contains omega-3 fatty acids.
In more severe cases of hypertriglyceridemia, surgery may be required. Some patients may benefit from a surgically-implanted device or open heart surgery. Monitoring triglyceride levels to identify higher levels early on is super important. The sooner you find out that your triglyceride levels are elevated, the sooner you can bring them down and shift your lifestyle.
If you work with Dr. Gros, he will develop a personalized treatment plan to fit your unique needs. Every patient is different and will have different requirements. UCF Health cardiologists place a strong emphasis on preventative cardiology. We aim to see our patients thrive in all stages of life which is why we offer the tools and education that you need to support your health for years to come.
Lifestyle Factors to Maintain Heart Health
Taking steps to improve your cardiac health is an action that you will never regret. The heart serves as a vital role in the overall function of the body. When it comes to learning how to strengthen your heart and maintaining heart health, you can talk with your doctor about recommended methods or try any of the following:
- Practice regular cardiovascular exercise such as walking, running or using an elliptical.
- Swap out the potato chips (and other packaged food) for heart-healthy snacks like fresh fruit, nuts or whole grain crackers.
- Maintain a healthy weight and work to lose any excess weight.
- Practice proper stress management and self care.
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol usage.
- Maintain a healthy blood pressure.
- Keep cholesterol levels under control.
- Visit your cardiologist regularly to have blood levels checked and heart health monitored.
Unfortunately, heart disease of all kinds is on the rise in today’s society, so taking steps to maintain your heart health is more important now than ever before.
A healthy heart requires a lot more than just active lifestyles and healthy eating (although these are great starting points)! It is important that you make the time to work with your cardiologist to keep track of heart health and take action when necessary. High triglycerides are only one of the many common heart conditions that is easily preventable with regular cardiology check ups.
Your cardiologist in Orlando has you covered, with comprehensive care and a modern approach to heart health. Dr. Gros works closely with his patients to find a treatment plan that fits into your unique situation. Preventing and treating heart disease is one of our specialties at UCF Health and we are proud to serve our patients everyday. Schedule your visit today.
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“How and When to Have Your Cholesterol Checked.” cdc.gov. Accessed July 27, 2022.
“Hypertriglyceridemia.” jabfm.org. Accessed July 27, 2022.
“Management of Hypertriglyceridemia.” aafp.org. Accessed July, 27, 2022.