A high level of triglycerides may lead to serious conditions like stroke or heart attack. Factors like an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and some medical conditions increase triglycerides.

Your body stores blood fats called triglycerides to provide energy throughout the day. The extra calories, sugar, and alcohol you consume convert into triglycerides. When you need an energy boost between meals, your hormones release triglycerides.

Your liver can convert triglycerides into glucose, and triglycerides are also stored in your fat cells, called adipose tissue.

A high level of triglycerides in your bloodstream may lead to a fatty buildup in your arteries, increasing your risk of serious health conditions like stroke or heart attack. They may also cause pancreatitis, an inflammation of your pancreas.

There are ways to lower your triglycerides and reduce these risks.

Many factors may cause you to have a high level of triglycerides, which is also called dyslipidemia.

What and how much you eat and drink

Triglycerides are mainly created by the oils, butter, and fats you eat. Extra calories you consume also produce triglycerides.

A diet high in sugar and simple carbohydrates, such as foods containing trans fats, hydrogenated oils, or white flour, may raise your triglyceride level.

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol may also cause high triglycerides. A study of 1,519 people who had eight or more drinks a day found their odds of high triglyceride levels increased two- to eightfold.

Lack of exercise

When you exercise, it burns off excess calories, preventing them from converting to triglycerides. Exercise also boosts your production of lipoprotein lipase, an enzyme that removes triglycerides from your bloodstream.

A small study of 38 people with coronary heart disease found that those who performed moderately intensive aerobic exercise for 8 weeks significantly decreased their triglyceride levels compared with those who didn’t exercise.

Certain medical conditions

The following are some of the medical conditions that may cause a high triglyceride level:

  • Chronic kidney disease: Damaged kidneys may increase your production of triglycerides and leave your body less able to clear them from your bloodstream.
  • Type 2 diabetes: This metabolic disease commonly raises your triglyceride level due to insulin resistance, which may cause a buildup in your bloodstream.
  • Liver disease: Cirrhosis, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and hepatitis may cause metabolic issues that affect your liver’s ability to secrete triglycerides and increase their production.
  • Obesity: The excess body fat associated with obesity, especially around your stomach, releases free fatty acids into your bloodstream that convert into triglycerides.
  • Thyroid disease: Hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid, slows hormone production and the rate at which you burn calories, which may raise your triglyceride level.
  • Familial hypertriglyceridemia: This genetic condition is associated with having a family history of high triglyceride levels.

Smoking cigarettes

Tobacco smoke contains toxic compounds that can lead to health conditions including increased triglyceride levels.

A 2023 meta-analysis found that smokers have triglyceride levels that are about 10–15% higher than nonsmokers.

Certain medications

Medications including the following may increase your triglyceride level:

Triglycerides and cholesterol are different types of substances in your blood:

Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in your body. They store extra calories and convert them into energy. Cholesterol is a waxy substance your liver produces that builds cells, produces hormones, and performs other important functions.

Some of the following factors may cause you to have a high triglyceride level along with a typical cholesterol level:

  • a diet high in calories, carbohydrates, and saturated fats
  • smoking cigarettes
  • obesity
  • heavy alcohol use
  • not getting enough exercise
  • liver or autoimmune diseases

You may be at greater risk of high triglycerides due to the following:

You usually won’t have any symptoms if you have a high level of triglycerides.

Having a high level of triglycerides may cause the following health conditions:

  • coronary heart disease
  • stroke
  • pancreatitis
  • lipemia retinalis, a condition that changes the appearance of the blood vessels in your eyes
  • multifactorial chylomicronemia syndrome, with symptoms including liver swelling, abdomen pain, and loss of short-term memory

Since you probably won’t have symptoms if your triglyceride level is high, it’s recommended to see a doctor or healthcare professional if you have any health conditions or risk factors that could cause an elevated level.

A blood test that includes a lipid panel will indicate if you have a high level of triglycerides.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that healthy adults get a lipid panel every 4–6 years. It’s recommended for people at risk of high triglycerides to have this test more often.

Before prescribing medications, a doctor may first recommend the following lifestyle changes to help lower your level of triglycerides:

  • eating a healthy diet low in sugar, saturated fats, and trans fats
  • avoiding drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
  • exercising regularly (150–300 minutes of moderate-intensity weekly aerobic exercise for adults)

If your high triglyceride level persists despite these lifestyle changes, a doctor may prescribe some of the following medications:

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about high triglyceride levels.

What is the triglyceride normal range by age?

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the normal triglyceride range for children and teens up to 19 years old is lower than 90 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). The normal range for adults ages 20 years old and older is below 150 mg/dL.

What is the main cause of high triglycerides?

The usual cause for high triglycerides is an unhealthy diet high in sugar, fat, and calories. Lack of exercise and some health conditions are also common causes.

Are high triglycerides worse than high cholesterol?

Not necessarily. High triglycerides and high cholesterol levels are both dangerous for your heart health.

A high triglyceride level may lead to arteriosclerosis, the hardening of your artery walls. It may also cause pancreatitis, inflammation of your pancreas.

A high cholesterol level may result in atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in your arteries that may lead to heart attack or stroke.

High levels of either may lead to serious conditions, including stroke and heart attack.

High triglycerides have several causes, such as diet, lack of exercise, medical conditions, and genetics. You may be able to lower the level with lifestyle changes or medications.

Because there usually are no symptoms associated with this condition, it’s important to have your triglycerides checked regularly, especially if you’re at risk of having a high level.