At a glance

Also known as

TG; TRIG; Trigs

Why get tested?

To assess the risk of developing heart disease

When to get tested?

As part of a lipid profile during a medical examination or if you are being treated for high triglycerides

Sample required?

A blood sample drawn from a vein

Test preparation needed?

The test for triglycerides should be done when you are fasting. Only water is permitted for 9-12 hours before the test.

What is being tested?

This test measures the amount of triglycerides in your blood. Triglycerides are the body's storage form for fat. Most triglycerides are found in adipose (fat) tissue. Some triglycerides circulate in the blood to provide fuel for muscles to work. Extra triglycerides are found in the blood after eating a meal — when fat is being sent from the gut to adipose tissue for storage. Ideally, the test for triglycerides should be done when you are fasting and no extra triglycerides from a recent meal are present. During fasting most triglycerides are carrried in the blood by lipoproteins called very low density lipoproteins (VLDL).

How is the sample collected for testing?

The test for triglycerides uses a blood sample. Most often, the blood sample is collected using a needle to collect blood from a vein.

Is any test preparation needed to ensure the quality of the sample?

The test for triglycerides should be done when you are fasting. For 9 to 12 hours before the test, only water is permitted. 

The Test

How is it used?

Blood tests for triglycerides are usually part of a lipid profile used to identify the risk of developing heart disease.
Results of the cholesterol test and other components of the lipid profile are used along with other known risk factors of heart disease to develop a plan of treatment and follow-up. Treatment options may include lifestyle changes, such as diet or exercise programs, or lipid-lowering drugs, such as statins. Australian guidelines recommend a treatment target of <2.0 mmol/L for triglycerides.

If you are diabetic, it is especially important to have triglycerides measured as part of any lipid testing since diabetics tend to have high triglycerides.

Having high triglycerides can also lead to a serious medical condition called pancreatitis which is inflammation of the pancreas gland.

When is it requested?

Lipid profiles, including triglycerides, are recommended as routine tests to evaluate risk of heart disease. High levels of triglycerides in the blood are associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD). The treatment target of triglyceride is <2mmol/L. If the triglyceride levels remain elevated after lowering LDL cholesterol, further medications and acions to lower triglyceride may be considered.

What does the test result mean?

If you have a high fasting triglyceride level, your doctor may wish to find out whether you have a high fat diet, or high sugar diet, a high intake of alcohol or have diabetes or hypothyroidism. It is unusual to have high triglycerides without also having high cholesterol. Having high lipids may increase your risk of developing heart disease and you may be given treatment aimed at lowering your lipid levels. The type of treatment used may differ depending on whether cholesterol, triglycerides, or both are high. Australian guidelines recommend treatment target of <2.0 mmol/L for triglycerides.

When triglycerides are very high (e.g. at least 10-15 mmol/L), there is a risk of developing pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas).

About Reference Intervals

Is there anything else I should know?

Testing should be done when you are fasting. For 9 to 12 hours before the test, only water is permitted. 

If you are diabetic and your blood sugar is out of control, triglycerides may be very high.

Triglycerides may change dramatically in response to meals. Very high values are seen after a meal. 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 oestrogens 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.

Common Questions

What type of diet is best for optimal triglyceride levels?

Since triglycerides are circulating forms of fat, you might think that a high fat diet will raise triglycerides and a low fat diet would lower triglycerides. However, carbohydrate is also a very important dietary predictor of triglycerides. Diets high in carbohydrates, especially sugar, lead to increases in triglycerides. Australian guidelines recommend treatment target of <2.0 mmol/L for triglycerides.

What drug treatments are recommended for uncontrolled triglyceride levels?

For many people, uncontrolled triglycerides are caused by disorders such as diabetes, obesity, kidney failure, or alcoholism. Therefore the treatment strategy is to treat the primary cause. When high triglycerides are not caused by another disorder, they are often seen together with high cholesterol. Treatment is directed toward lowering both cholesterol and triglycerides. If diet fails, drug treatment is generally recommended. If triglyceride levels remain elevated, treatment with one of the following may be considered; fenofibrate, nicotinic acid or fish oil.

Can exercise help with triglyceride levels?

Yes. Exercise is especially helpful in lowering triglycerides and raising HDL (which tends to decrease when triglycerides increase). Even in the absence of weight loss, exercise will help you lower both LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising HDL cholesterol.

Can I monitor triglyceride levels at home?

There are currently no products available to monitor triglycerides at home.

Last Review Date: September 21, 2013