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When Are Triglycerides Dangerous?

by
author image Dr. Franchesca Vermillion
Dr. Franchesca Vermillion is based in Portland, Ore. and has been writing health-related material for her patients and for public speaking events for more than four years. Vermillion obtained her Bachelor of Arts in molecular biology from the University of Denver in 2001 and her Chiropractic Physician's Degree from University of Western States in 2006.
When Are Triglycerides Dangerous?
All excess calories are stored in the body as triglycerides. Photo Credit indigolotos/iStock/Getty Images

News media often report on high fat and cholesterol levels in the body. It is known that high levels of cholesterol can lead to health problems such as heart disease. While triglycerides are a part of a lipid profile, not as much attention was given to them until more recently. High triglyceride levels can also contribute to health problems.

Definition

All consumed food that is not used as energy for the body is stored as fat. It does not matter if it is carbohydrates, protein or fat -- if it's not immediately used for energy, it is stored and saved for a later time in the form of lipids, or triglycerides. When consuming more calories than burned on a regular basis, this leads to an excess of triglycerides. The only way triglycerides can leave the body is by burning up the energy contained within them.

Normal Levels

It is necessary for the body to have some stores of triglycerides, giving the body enough energy to function even while asleep. The body needs certain essential levels of fat to function properly at all time. Testing for triglycerides is done with a fasting blood test. The Cleveland Clinic says 9 to 12 hours of fasting beforehand is necessary to obtain the most accurate blood lipid levels, as eating beforehand can lead to higher circulating levels of lipids in the blood. Usually, triglycerides are tested in the form of a lipid panel that includes total cholesterol, HDL and LDL levels. In a healthy individual, triglycerides should be under 150 mg/dl. Borderline high levels are from 151mg/dl to 200 mg/dl. High triglycerides are 201 mg/dl and up, and very high levels are anything over 500 mg/dl.

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Overall Health

There is no set level at which triglycerides suddenly become dangerous. Just simply having elevated levels leads to higher risks for many different health problems. There is no set rule to say how long someone will have to live if triglycerides are over 500mg/dl and remain that way for a long time. There is no timetable to show when or if someone will have a heart attack, but having high levels of triglycerides is strongly associated with atherosclerosis, although high LDL cholesterol levels are believed to be the main cause of it. In addition, problems with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes, obesity and increased risks for heart disease are all associated with increased triglyceride levels.

Stroke Risk

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States. A very large and lengthy study in Denmark followed approximately 14,000 people for 33 years. In both men and women, those who averaged a higher overall triglyceride profile had a much higher risk of stroke. During the study years, more than 1,600 people suffered from ischemic stroke. The least risk of stroke incidence was in women with levels below 89 mg/dl. Women with triglyceride levels around 443 mg/dl were four times as likely to suffer a stroke as the women with the lower-than-89 mg/dl levels. A 20 percent increase for stroke risk was noticed for those who had levels between 89 mg/dl and 177 mg/dl. The risk in men was similar for the mildly increased levels, but only showed two times the risk level for stroke as the triglyceride levels rose. While triglycerides lower than 150 mg/dl are normal, this study found the lowest risk levels were in those with triglycerides lower than 89 mg/dl.

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