About the Test
Purpose of the test
Blood tests for triglycerides are usually part of a lipid panel that is used to help identify your risk of developing heart disease and to help make decisions about what treatment may be needed if there is borderline or high risk.
As part of a lipid panel, a triglycerides test 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 triglycerides levels.
Results of the cholesterol test and other components of the lipid panel 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.
What does the test measure?
Most triglycerides are found in fat (adipose) tissue, but some triglycerides circulate in the blood to provide fuel for muscles to work. After a person eats, an increased level of triglycerides is found in the blood as the body converts the energy not needed right away into fat.
Triglycerides move via the blood from the gut to adipose tissue for storage. In between meals, triglycerides are released from fat tissue to be used as an energy source for the body. Most triglycerides are carried in the blood by lipoproteins called very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL).
High levels of triglycerides in the blood are associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), although the reason for this is not well understood. Certain factors can contribute to high triglycerides levels and to an increased risk of CVD, including lack of exercise, being overweight, smoking cigarettes, consuming excess alcohol, and having medical conditions such as diabetes and kidney disease.
When should I get a triglycerides test?
A lipid panel, which includes triglycerides, is recommended every 4 to 6 years to evaluate risk of heart disease in healthy adults. Children should have a lipid panel 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 when people have identified risk factors for heart disease. Some risk factors for heart disease include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Being overweight or obese
- Unhealthy diet
- Being physically inactive—or not getting enough exercise
- Age (men 45 years or older or women 55 years or older)
- High blood pressure (hypertension—blood pressure of 140/90 or higher or taking high blood pressure medication)
- 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
- Diabetes or prediabetes
For diabetics, it is especially important to have triglycerides measured as part of any lipid testing since triglycerides increase significantly when blood glucose levels are not well-controlled.
Screening for high cholesterol as part of a lipid panel is recommended for children and young adults. They should be tested once between the ages of 9 and 11 and then again between the ages of 17 and 21. Earlier and more frequent screening with a lipid panel is recommended for children and youths who are at an increased risk of developing heart disease as adults. Some of the risk factors are similar to those in adults and include a family history of heart disease or health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or being overweight.
High-risk children should have their first cholesterol test between 2 and 8 years old, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Children younger than 2 years old are too young to be tested.
As part of a lipid panel, triglycerides tests may be ordered at regular intervals to evaluate the success of lipid-lowering lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, or to determine the effectiveness of drug therapy such as statins.
Guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association recommend that adults taking statins have a fasting lipid panel done four to 12 weeks after starting therapy and then every three to 12 months thereafter to assure that the drug is working.
Finding a Triglycerides Test
How can I get a triglycerides test?
A triglycerides test is usually ordered by your doctor. It requires a blood sample be taken at a lab, hospital, clinic, or other medical setting.
You can also order a triglycerides test online as part of a lipid panel.
Can I take the test at home?
A few products are available to test lipid levels, including triglycerides, at home. There are two types of home testing: those where you collect the sample at home and then mail it away to a laboratory for testing and those where you conduct the test yourself at home (self-monitoring). The American Heart Association hasn’t taken a position on the use of home testing devices for measuring lipid levels.
How much does the test cost?
The cost of a triglycerides test depends on where you have the blood sample drawn, where your blood is analyzed, and if you have insurance coverage. You can ask your doctor, the laboratory, or your health insurance provider about how much a test will cost you and whether your plan covers the blood draw and laboratory testing.
Taking a Triglycerides Test
A triglycerides test requires having a blood sample drawn from a vein in your arm.
Before the test
Current standards recommend that testing be done when you are fasting so only water is permitted for nine to 12 hours before the test. In addition, alcohol should not be consumed for 24 hours just before the test. Your health care practitioner may decide that you can be tested without fasting. Follow any instructions you are given and tell the person drawing your blood whether or not you have fasted.
During the test
Taking a triglycerides test involves having a blood sample taken. The blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in your arm. Sometimes, a drop of blood is collected by puncturing the skin on a fingertip. This fingerstick sample is typically used when a lipid panel (total cholesterol, HDL-C, LDL-C and TG) is being measured on a portable testing device, for example, at a health fair.
After the test
Once the sample has been collected, the phlebotomist will place a piece of gauze or bandage over the spot where the needle was taken out. You may be asked to apply gentle pressure to help stop any bleeding and help prevent swelling or bruising. You’ll generally only need to apply pressure for a minute or two.
You may experience slight pain or throbbing where the needle was removed, but this normally subsides quickly. You’ll likely be instructed to keep a bandage on for a few hours, but you can usually go back to your usual activities with the exception of no heavy lifting once the test is over.
Triglycerides Test Results
Receiving test results
It can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to receive the results of a triglycerides test. Your results will be sent directly to you or your doctor, and may also be available through an online health portal.
You can ask the doctor who ordered your test for more details about how and when you will receive the results.
Interpreting test results
In general, healthy lipid levels help to maintain a healthy heart and lower the risk of heart attack or stroke. A health care practitioner will take into consideration the results of each component of the lipid panel as well as other risk factors to help determine your overall risk of heart disease, whether treatment is necessary and, if so, which treatment will best help to lower your risk.
In 2002, the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Adult Treatment Panel III (ATPIII) provided the guidelines for evaluating lipid levels and determining treatment. In 2013, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association issued guidelines for adults that made recommendations on who should receive cholesterol-lowering therapy.
However, use of the updated guidelines remains controversial. Many still use the older guidelines from the NCEP ATP III to evaluate lipid levels and cardiovascular disease risk:
For adults, triglycerides test results are categorized as follows:
- Desirable: Less than 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L)
- Borderline high: 150 to 199 mg/dL (1.7-2.2 mmol/L)
- High: 200 to 499 mg/dL (2.3-5.6 mmol/L)
- Very high: Greater than 500 mg/dL (5.6 mmol/L)
For children, teens and young adults:
From newborn to age 9
- Acceptable: Less than 75 mg/dL (0.85 mmol/L)
- Borderline high: 75-99 mg/dL (0.85-1.12 mmol/L)
- High: Greater than 100 mg/dL (1.13 mmol/L)
For ages 10-19 years
- Acceptable: Less than 90 mg/dL (1.02 mmol/L)
- Borderline high: 90-129 mg/dL (1.02-1.46 mmol/L)
- High: Greater than 130 mg/dL (1.47 mmol/L)
For young adults older than 19
- Acceptable: Less than 115 mg/dL (1.30 mmol/L)
- Borderline high: 115-149 mg/dL (1.30-1.68 mmol/L)
- High: Greater than 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L)
Note: These values are based on fasting triglycerides levels.
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.
It’s good to discuss your results with your doctor. Some questions you may want to ask include:
- What do my results indicate about my health?
- Were the results from the test abnormal? If so, how should I address the abnormality?
- Are there any diagnoses to be made based on my results?
- Will any follow up tests be needed based on my results?
- Given results, is there anything that you would suggest I do to improve my health?