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Serum Triglycerides - Triglyceride Level

Overview & Description

A triglyceride level is a blood test that measures a type of fat in the blood. Triglycerides are different from cholesterol, which is often measured at the same time.

Who is a candidate for the test?

A triglyceride level may be ordered to see how well the body processes fats. It is usually ordered as part of a lipid profile to help evaluate risk factors for coronary heart disease, or CHD. Triglyceride levels are an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease. This means that a person's risk for CHD is increased whenever triglyceride levels are high.

How is the test performed?

To perform a triglyceride level, a blood sample is needed. Blood is usually taken from a vein on the forearm or hand. First, the skin over the vein is cleaned with an antiseptic. Next, a strong rubber tube, or tourniquet, is wrapped around the upper arm. This enlarges the veins in the lower arm by restricting blood flow. A fine needle is gently inserted into a vein, and the tourniquet is removed. Blood flows through the needle and is collected in a syringe or vial. After the needle is withdrawn, the puncture site is covered for a short time to prevent bleeding. The blood is then sent to the lab for testing.

Preparation & Expectations

What is involved in preparation for the test?

An individual is often asked not to eat anything for at least 8 or 12 hours prior to the test.

Results and Values

What do the test results mean?

Triglyceride levels are defined as follows:

  • normal is less than 150 mg/dL
  • 150-199 mg/dL is borderline high
  • 200-499 mg/dL indicates high triglycerides
  • 500 mg/dL or above indicates a very high triglyceride level
  • Abnormally high triglyceride levels may be due to:

  • alcohol abuse
  • chronic renal failure and other kidney diseases
  • cigarette smoking
  • diabetes
  • a diet in which more than 60% of the energy intake is from carbohydrates
  • hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland
  • inflammation of the pancreas, which in turn may be caused by high levels of triglycerides
  • an inherited, impaired ability to process fats that results in high levels of fats in the blood
  • lack of physical activity
  • overweight or obesity
  • medicines, including corticosteroids, estrogen, and high doses of beta-blockers
  • Abnormally low triglyceride levels may indicate the following:

  • impaired absorption of nutrients in the intestine
  • malnutrition
  • severe liver disease

  • Attribution

    Author:David T. Moran, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
    Edit Date:07/31/01
    Reviewer:Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed:07/16/01