Everyone talks about cholesterol, but you don't hear much about its equally important counterpart. Triglycerides make up a significant portion of the fat that occurs naturally in your blood. If yours are too high, you often don't know it until it's too late.
The Dangers of High Triglycerides
I found myself in the emergency room at 2 am. I hadn't been to the bathroom in days. I had severe abdominal and lower back pain, which I had, at first, attributed to the constipation. A blood test and CAT scan revealed that my pancreas had grown to block much of my digestive tract. The diagnosis was acute pancreatitis brought on by alcoholism. This was diagnosed despite my repeated protests that I was not a drinker. They assumed I was lying, because they had never seen a case this severe that was not caused by alcohol.
I had been suffering with this, to a lesser degree of severity, for several months. I attributed it to digestive problems. My doctor thought it might be my gall bladder. Neither of us could have been more wrong.
From the emergency room, I was sent straight to intensive care, after being given a generous dose of morphine. And there I lay, mostly unconscious, for nearly a week. When I was awake, I was allowed no food or drink. Not even so much as a few ice chips to wet my throat. Everything I required was supplied intravenously. My wife was told that this would be a good time to start putting my affairs in order. Fortunately, that turned out to be unnecessary.
I'm not sure how I recovered. It's all a blur of blinding pain, mixed with morphine-induced sleep,and my wife prefers not to talk about it. But when I had a follow-up visit with my doctor, following my release, I discovered that my cholesterol was over 1500, and my triglycerides were approaching 5000. I wasn't entirely sure what this meant, so I went about conducting a little research via the internet.
Below are the questions with which I was left, along with the information I was able to dig up on my own.
What Are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a kind of fat carried in your blood. They are comprised of two molecules of fatty acid, and one glyceride molecule. Along with HDL and LDL cholesterol, they make up the total lipid (fat) count in your blood.
What Do Triglycerides Do?
Every time you eat, unused calories are converted to triglycerides, and stored in fat cells. Between meals, your body calls upon the stored triglycerides to provide energy. If you typically concume more calories than you can burn, there is a good chance that you may have high triglycerides, also known as hypertriglyceridemia.
Are They the Same as Cholesterol?
Like cholesterol, a certain amount of triglycerides are needed in your blood. But they differ in that triglycerides are used by your body as a source of energy, whereas cholesterol is used to build cells and various types of hormones. Neither is soluble in blood, and they circulate throughout your bloodstream with the assistance of lipoproteins. It should be noted that high levels of cholesterol often go hand in hand with high triglycerides, and both are major risk factors for heart disease and coronary artery disease.
What Are Healthy Triglyceride Levels?
As most people know, your cholesterol should be kept below 200 mg/dl. But where should your triglycerides be? I have come across varying answers to this but, in general, they seem to fall into this range:
- Normal: Less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
- Borderline high: 150-199 mg/dL
- High: 200-499 mg/dL
- Very high: 500 mg/dL or above
If yours are high you are at a much greater risk of heart attack, stroke, heart disease, pancreatitis, and other such ailments.
Who Is At Risk?
The most common causes of hypertriglyceridemia are obesity, untreated or poorly controlled diabetes, and excessive consumption of alcohol. Others risk factors include hypothyroidism, kidney disease and, less frequently, genetics. As with many diseases, if you're a smoker, you should quit smoking right now. It won't cause high triglycerides, but as a vasoconstrictor, smoking can quickly make a bad situation worse.
Certain medications may also elevate triglycerides. Among these are Tamoxifen, birth control pills, steroids, beta blockers, diuretics, and estrogen.
How Can I Get Checked?
Triglycerides are usually checked while testing cholesterol levels. All that is required is a quick blood draw. If yours are too high, your doctor should tell you. Mine only mentioned it in passing, so I usually ask for the specific numbers now.
What Treatment Is Available?
The first thing your doctor is likely to tell you is that you need to examine your diet. I have found that a diet designed to control diabetes goes a long way toward lowering triglycerides, as well. In general, the largest contributors for me were carbohydrates, particularly simple carbohydrates.
In the interest of dieting without giving up my favorite sources of carbs, I discovered that multi-grain breads are better for you than whole grain breads. I have also noticed that the darker in color a bread is, the less negative impact it has. This is also true of rice. I choose brown rice over white.
There is a fine line you must walk here, though. In lowering carbs, many people try to eliminate them completely, which can be dangerous. Others tend to go for a more high protein diet, which in many cases also means higher fat.
What About Drugs?
While proper diet and exercise are the preferred course of treatment, sometimes they are not enough to adequately lower your levels. This is particularly true if you are genetically predisposed to having a high lipid count.
There are prescription drugs available if your doctor deems it necessary. There are numerous Statin drugs that target lipids in general.In researching drugs geared specifically toward triglycerides, Niaspan appears to be the most widely prescribed. I'm told it's very effective, but at over a hundred dollars for a 30 day supply, it can be quite costly for those with no prescription insurance.
There are also homeopathic remedies available over the counter.
Can I Treat High Triglycerides Myself?
I currently treat my hypertriglyceridemia withniacin therapy, but this is not a decision to take lightly. High doses of niacin have been associated with some potentially serious side effects, and could interact badly with medications you may already be taking. I would strongly urge you to see your doctor before taking this route.
It is also likely that if your doctor approves this course, he will want to see you periodically to monitor its effectiveness, and check for the more serious side effects, like impaired liver function, and irregular heartbeat.
As I said in the beginning, I am not a doctor and do not offer this information as advice. It is my hope that if you are at risk of hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), or hypertriglyceridemia you will seek the advice of your doctor, and conduct your own research relevant to your specific health concerns. In doing so, you can lessen your chance of pancreatitis, heart disease and stroke while living a longer and healthier life.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Ritesh on November 18, 2010:
This is not mine, copied from yahoo, may be help some one
** Homeopathic remedies for high triglycerides.
Cholesterinum is the most commonly used homeopathic medicine for lowering cholesterol. Take Cholesterinum tablets in 6X potency. 3-4 tablets, 8 hourly preferably empty stomached.
** Personal recommendation **
Top remedy for lowering cholesterol: Get your cholesterol level checked first.
Take ¼ teaspoon of ground Cinnamon sticks (daar cheeni) daily, early in the morning, empty stomached with a teaspoon of honey for 45 days then;
Take ¼ teaspoon of Blackseed (hub-e-aswad, kalonji) daily, early in the morning, empty stomached with a teaspoon of honey for the next 45 days.
Get your cholesterol level checked again and pray for me :)
Oatmeal porridge daily is also excellent for lowering cholesterol.
rmr (author) from Livonia, MI on November 08, 2010:
Hi Ag, thanks for the comment and the tweet!
It's especially important for diabetics (even reformed ones) to keep an eye on their trigs. It's a lot easier to keep them under control than it is to repair the damage if things get out of hand. And yes! I'm steering clear of tarts of all descriptions for the moment. Thanks for asking!
Peter from Australia on November 08, 2010:
Wow I never realised that high triglyceride readings could cause such a problem. As a reformed diabetic I have a checkup every 12 months and my doc gives me all the figures and goes over them in detail. I will check the triglyceride reading more closely in future. Thanks for the great info. Twittering it out for other sufferers to read .
I hope you are laying off the lemon tarts ?
Food Insurance on October 28, 2010:
It's amazing how fast your body and the triglycerides respond to exercise and change in diet. It worked way better for me than the meds did.
Grace Dean on October 06, 2010:
I agree with Ahmed.
The various causes of high triglycerides are usually attributed to conditions relating to age; an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), drinking too much alcohol, eating food that is high in fat, heredity, kidney disease, obesity (or weight gain), poorly controlled diabetes and regularly eating more calories than you can burn.
Certain medications may also contribute to increasing the triglycerides to an unhealthy level. These include beta-blockers; birth control pills, diuretics (water pills), estrogen, steroids and tamoxifen.
Ahmed on August 18, 2010:
Great info i must say. My fathers triglycerides level went up to 2000 and his Cholesterol levels were 500 but thanks to this article that i understood a lot about it and was able to educate my father as well. Wish u a healthy life Thanks again :).
Tony Lawrence from SE MA on June 18, 2010:
The darn niacin is so expensive.. I don't take it very often.
rmr (author) from Livonia, MI on June 03, 2010:
Hi Pcunix. I've never heard of Niacin therapy for a number that low, but then again, I'm not a doctor. Could be that if you have a family history of high triglycerides, you doctor is just trying to control it before it becomes a problem.
Pizza lovers, if you're exercising and avoiding the wrong foods (that includes pizza!), you may want to ask your doctor about meds. There are a lot of effective prescription drugs to lower triglycerides, and some good OTC options as well.
Tony Lawrence from SE MA on June 02, 2010:
Wow. My doctor put me on niacin because my triglycerides were 159!
pizza lovers on March 04, 2010:
Very interesting, I too have extremely high trigs and have been over the 5000 range as well. During on of my pregnancies, my trigs went from 2500 to over 5000 in a course of two days. I am not a drinker and about 25 pounds over my ideal weight. Also during my pregnancy, I developed acute pancreatitis and had to have a TPN line put in which meant I couldn't eat or drink anything for two months but yet my trigs. was still over 1500.
It gets rather discouraging knowing that I don't drink, exercise and try to eat right but yet my numbers are currently over 1500.
rmr (author) from Livonia, MI on January 27, 2010:
Tax, 1426 is pretty high. As far a major worries, not if you change your diet. Your doctor should be able to set you up with a plan that fits your situation.
Carmelo, it sounds like your doctor has put quite a scare into you. Yes, 749 is very high, but I don't think you're out of time. As I said, my triglycerides were over 5000 and I'm still here to tell the tale. You shouldn't be afraid to eat, but that number should be telling you it's time to change your diet.
If I had to guess, I would say all that cereal and ice cream had an impact on your trigs. Those tend to be high in carbohydrates, which are a building block for triglycerides.
Just try to relax and wait for your results. If you've been taking Niaspan your numbers are probably coming down already. Especially if you've been eating less fried foods (another big no-no for trigs) and more veggies.
carmelo r. on January 27, 2010:
well I had been on niaspan for my bad cholestrol that I had for the past few months.But the other day is when I found out about triglyceride.My practioner had told me that when my blood was taken out sometime ago,I'm not quite sure when. But that it was at 60, and now my triglyceride is at 749.He told me that it's very high and I'm very scare not my time is running out.I truly believe that it got that high because I was taken zyprexa. And while on that medication I gain alot of weight, and my right leg swollen up. And I was eating everything in sight, like every night I would crave for cereal and ice cream.All I want to know is do I really have to worry.Another blood test was taken today 1-27-10 to see if theres a change.But until I get those results you don't think I'll run out of time omg I hope not? I'm so scare to eat now cause I don't want to make one mistake.I don't eat no fry foods nor fast foods. Alot of fruits and vegetables.Well this is all I hope I get my answer.
Tax on January 07, 2010:
My LDL is around 200 and my Triglycerides is 1426 and HDL is 50, Is this a sign of big worry.
ricky brantley on October 30, 2009:
i am a 41 year old male with a trigoycerides of 598 and not o
ver weigh 165 pounds and do not drink and walk a lot i just do not understand how someone who eats right and not a drinker could have such a high number so if anyone could help me out with an answer please email me at ricky.brantley @ yahoo.com or call me at 334-304-1047 i would deeply appreciate it thank you
Garrett on October 27, 2009:
My mom who is my best friend had a couple of big heart attacks at age sixty. She quit smoking and watched her diet for six and a half years. Just the beginning of this year she was told she had Rheumatoid Arthritis. RA is an auto immune disease that causes a lot of pain in the smallest joints. Between it and stress she got a blood disorder called Antiphospholipid syndrome. It causes the blood to clot. Between that and the RA causing the immune system to treat her adrenal glands as the enemy she stood little chance of survival.
To make a long story short. Many people live eating things that should kill them. They have high lipid levels and somehow never experience problems. Many people smoke, drink and do illegal drugs and live beyond the average life expectancies. People, if God wants you he will see to it that you come home. Live your lives and be happy.
I am going back to enjoying all the things that are supposed to kill me. I am quitting my lipid meds and living it up. If it is my time I will find out. My mom wanted to live a long life and all the changes she made in the end did not save her. She would have been better off living life on her terms. Not some doctors.
Luke Mitchell on October 01, 2009:
I've had very high levels of Cholesterol and triglycerides for years. It stems from a family history and his little to do with my diet. I've tried various statins and currently take 10mg a day. For the past month I've been taking massive amounts of omega three to try and break down the triglycerides. The problem with high lipid levels is that it blocks up your circulation with arterial plaque. It is like gunk in a plumbing system. Human bodies are quite basic as well as miraculous.
rmr (author) from Livonia, MI on April 28, 2009:
Aleta, as I said at the beginning of this hub, I am not a doctor. I will say however, that in my experience, those numbers are not all that scary. It probably won't take all that much to bring it back in line.
Aleta on April 28, 2009:
I just received a call from my doctor. My HDL was 280 and my triglycerides were 364. Do you think I need to worry? I am going in to see him next week.
JPSO138 from Cebu, Philippines, International on April 07, 2009:
Very informative indeed. Certainly is very useful and the great thing about it is it comes from personal experience.
C Holmes on November 18, 2008:
You have written expertly from your own experience, and it is helpful. Thank you. I learned a lot!
Rita on October 16, 2008:
homeopathy also treat high triglycerides but no names of hoemo drugs are given - please give the information
rmr (author) from Livonia, MI on August 21, 2008:
It had probably been a year, or two. I knew my cholesterol was high. Even with diet and meds, it is usually high. It was the triglycerides that shocked me. I was never told what they were, what they did, what the proper range was, etc. The people in the intensive care unit were kind enough to explain the situation to me, somewhat. After the fact.
Mark Scalise on August 21, 2008:
Before the emergency room visit, when was the last time you had a cholesterol screening?
cvaughn570 on June 25, 2008:
Very informative! I, too, had heard of triglycerides, but did not know what they were or their significance. Thank you for telling the rest of us about this experience.
rmr (author) from Livonia, MI on June 25, 2008:
So good to hear from you, Marisa! Best of luck with your recheck. In researching another hub, I discovered that peanuts can help with high cholesterol, as well as triglycerides. Food for thought.
Kate Swanson from Sydney on June 24, 2008:
It's timely that I came across this Hub as I just found out I have high cholesterol a few months ago. I have to go back for another check next week, so I'll be sure to ask my doctor about triglycerides. Thanks for the tip!
rmr (author) from Livonia, MI on May 30, 2008:
Cost is a big one for me, as I don't have insurance. It's always best to do your own research on over the counter remedies for any ailment. They work better for some people, than for others. I get good results with otc treatments, but you should always talk to your doctor before trying them. It's also wise to inform your doctor if you are already taking otc meds. They may be contraindicated with other meds you may be taking.
Deb on May 29, 2008:
Is cost the only reason you did not choose Niaspan?
glassvisage from Northern California on March 20, 2008:
I've always heard about triglycerides but I never knew what they were. It's probably good to know since I have bad cholesterol, and I eat a lot of butter :(