Blood tests for triglycerides are usually part of a lipid profile used to identify the risk of developing heart disease. As part of a lipid profile, it may be used to monitor people who have risk factors for heart disease, those who have had a heart attack, or those who are being treated for high lipid and/or high triglyceride levels.
Some risk factors for heart disease include:
Age (men 45 years or older or women 55 years or older)
Hypertension (blood pressure of 140/90 or higher or taking high blood pressure medications)
Family history of premature heart disease (heart disease in an immediate family member—male relative under age 55 or female relative under age 65)
Pre-existing heart disease or already having had a heart attack
Lipid profiles, including triglycerides, are recommended every 5 years to evaluate risk of heart disease in healthy adults. Children should have a lipid profile screening at least once between the ages of 9 and 11 and once again between the ages of 17 and 21.
Testing may be ordered more frequently to monitor treatment in people who have been found to have high triglycerides or for people who have identified risk factors for heart disease. Risk factors include a family history of heart disease or health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or being overweight. The test for triglycerides is not often ordered alone since risk of heart disease is based also on cholesterol levels (see Cholesterol, HDL Cholesterol, LDL Cholesterol).
When triglycerides are very high (greater than 1000 mg/dL (11.30 mmol/L)), there is a risk of developing pancreatitis in children and adults. Treatment to lower triglycerides should be started as soon as possible.
If you are diabetic and your blood sugar is out of control, triglycerides may be very high.
Triglycerides change dramatically in response to meals, increasing as much as 5 to 10 times higher than fasting levels just a few hours after eating. Even fasting levels vary considerably day to day. Therefore, modest changes in fasting triglycerides measured on different days are not considered to be abnormal.
Certain drugs such as corticosteroids, protease inhibitors for HIV, beta blockers, and estrogens can increase blood triglyceride levels.
There is increasing interest in measuring triglycerides in people who have not fasted. The reason is that a non-fasting sample may be more representative of the "usual" circulating level of triglyceride since most of the day blood lipid levels reflect post-meal (post-prandial) levels rather than fasting levels. However, it is not yet certain how to interpret non-fasting levels for evaluating risk so, at present, there is no change in the current recommendations for fasting prior to tests for lipid levels.
This article was last reviewed on September 18, 2013. | This article was last modified on January 6, 2014.
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