Triglycerides Test

Triglycerides Test
Shot of a scientist recording his findings on a digital tablet

A triglycerides test is a blood test that measures the amount of a fat in your blood called triglycerides. High triglycerides may increase your risk for a heart attack or stroke. A triglycerides test can help you decide if you need to take action to lower your risk.

Your body uses triglycerides for energy. If you eat more calories than you need, your body turns the extra calories into triglycerides and stores them in your fat cells to use later. When your body needs energy, your cells release triglycerides into your bloodstream to provide fuel for your muscles to work.

If you eat more calories than you burn off, especially calories from carbohydrates, including sugary foods, and fats, you may have high triglyceride levels in your blood. A high blood triglyceride level usually doesn’t cause any symptoms, but over time, it may affect your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease. Extremely high levels of triglycerides also increase the risk of acute pancreatitis in adults and children.

Other names for a triglycerides test: TG, TRIG, lipid panel, fasting lipoprotein panel

What is it used for?

A triglycerides test is used to understand your risk for heart disease, stroke, and other conditions that involve your arteries, such as peripheral arterial disease. The test is also used to help monitor heart conditions and treatments to lower the risk of heart disease.

A triglycerides test is usually done as part of a group of tests called a lipid profile. Lipid is another word for fat. A lipid profile measures the level of fats in your blood, including triglycerides and cholesterol. If you have high levels of both LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, you may have a higher risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Why do I need a triglycerides test?

Your health care provider may order a lipid profile, including a triglycerides test, as part of a regular checkup. If you are being treated for high cholesterol and/or triglycerides, you may also need this test to see how well your treatment is working.

How often you need to have a lipid profile test depends on your age, sex, and your risk of developing heart disease. The general age recommendations for testing blood lipid levels are:

For ages 2 to 19:

  • In general, start testing between ages nine and 11. Repeat the test every five years.
  • If there is a family history of high blood cholesterol, heart attack, stroke, or other risks for developing heart disease, test as early as age two.

For ages 20 and older, tests should be done:

  • Every five years for:
    • Males between ages 20 and 45
    • Females between ages 20 and 55
    • Males age 45 and older
    • Females age 55 and older

    You may need to be tested more often if you have a higher risk for heart disease because you:

    • Have a family health history of early heart disease (a parent or sibling with heart disease before age 55 for males, and before age 65 for females)
    • Smoke
    • Are overweight or have obesity
    • Have unhealthy eating habits
    • Don’t get enough exercise
    • Have diabetes
    • Have high blood pressure
    • Are a male age 45 or older, or a female age 50 or older

    Ask your doctor how often you need to have your blood lipid levels tested.

    What happens during a triglycerides test?

    During the test, a health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.

    Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?

    You may need to fast (not eat or drink) for 9 to 12 hours before your blood is drawn. Your provider will let you know if you need to fast and if there are any special instructions to follow.

    Are there any risks to the test?

    There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.

    What do the results mean?

    Triglycerides are usually measured in milligrams (mg) of triglycerides per deciliter (dL) of blood. Guidelines for normal and higher levels of triglycerides are used to help decide when treatment is needed. The commonly used guidelines for adults are:

    Category Triglyceride levels in adults
    Normal (desirable) less than 150mg/dL
    Borderline high 150 to 199 mg/dL
    High 200 to 499 mg/dL
    Very high 500 mg/dL and higher

    Guidelines for children and teens are different than adults. Ask your child’s provider to explain what your child’s test results mean.

    Triglyceride levels that are higher than normal may mean you have a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, and other conditions that affect your arteries. To reduce your blood triglycerides, your health care provider may first recommend lifestyle changes, such as:

    • Eating heart-healthy foods and limiting added sugar and foods high in saturated fat
    • Getting regular physical activity
    • Limiting alcohol
    • Quitting smoking
    • Aiming for a healthy weight
    • Getting enough sleep
    • Managing stress

    In certain cases, you may also need medicine to help lower your triglyceride levels. Before making any major changes to your diet or exercise routine, talk with your provider about what treatment is best for you.

    Triglyceride levels that are too low are very uncommon.

    Is there anything else I need to know about triglyceride tests?

    Certain commonly used medicines can increase blood triglyceride levels, so ask your provider if any medicines you take could affect your test results.

    Certain medical conditions can also increase blood triglycerides, including:

    • Kidney failure
    • Liver disease
    • Thyroid disease
    • Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
    • Diabetes
    • Obesity

    If one of these conditions could be increasing your triglycerides, it’s important to treat the condition to help lower your blood triglycerides and your risk of heart disease and stroke.

    Courtesy of MedlinePlus from the National Library of Medicine.