Causes of High Triglycerides and Symptoms

It's normal to worry when your doctor diagnoses you with high triglycerides and you don't know the causes. Continue reading as today's article will tell you about the possible causes and symptoms of this disorder.
Causes of High Triglycerides and Symptoms

Last update: 10 October, 2021

People often think that one of the main causes of high triglycerides in the blood is excess fat in their diet. This isn’t always the case and it may be due to other factors.

This is why you mustn’t panic if you’ve been diagnosed with elevated triglycerides. Talk to your doctor about the possible reasons so as to address the condition properly.

Triglycerides and their causes

This lipid variety circulates in human blood and is present in certain body tissues. It’s a normal substance but its elevation in plasma could lead to problems.

For one, this fat is a source of reserve energy in normal metabolism. Lipid cells called adipocytes, store triglycerides inside them for use when taken with food.

The body uses these reserves to generate heat in situations that require more caloric expenditure, such as prolonged exercise or cold winters. Furthermore, this mechanism isn’t exclusive to humans; many other animals use it in the same way.

Beyond the fact that every laboratory has its own biochemical parameters with which it establishes normality, there are certain values that most experts consider adequate. A person has high triglycerides when its concentration exceeds 150 milligrams per deciliter of blood.

This elevated concentration has a link to increased cardiovascular risk, with increased chances of acute myocardial infarction and stroke. It’s very high when it exceeds 200 milligrams per deciliter and anything above 500 milligrams per deciliter requires extreme caution.

A person with high triglycerides.
Triglycerides are part of the body’s energy reserve but elevated levels can bring serious consequences.

Some of the causes of high triglycerides

The main culprit of high triglycerides is a sloppy diet, but this isn’t the only cause. A sedentary lifestyle, genetics, and some systemic diseases are also related to the disorder.

Diet

As far as diet is concerned, it’s saturated fats and trans fats that raise cholesterol and triglycerides. The former also increase bad or LDL cholesterol.

Moreover, saturated fats are concentrated mainly in dairy products of animal origin, such as cheese, milk, and butter. Red meat also contributes large amounts of triglycerides, particularly leaner cuts.

Besides, trans fats have a double negative effect, which consists in the decrease of good cholesterol and the increase of those that obstruct the arteries. They’re mainly present in hydrogenated products.

Concomitant diseases

The conditions most commonly associated with an increase in blood triglycerides are:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Renal insufficiency

Lifestyle

A lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle are known risk factors for cardiovascular disease. The problem lies in the increase in triglycerides and cholesterol that occurs when the person doesn’t exercise to a large extent.

Add bad habits such as smoking or alcoholism to it and the risk increases. In fact, research shows how the mother’s lifestyle can alter the lipid levels in her babies during gestation.

Genetics

Beyond the so-called “familial hypercholesterolemia” disease, in which the genetic basis is clear, high triglycerides alone don’t escape the influence of heredity. Children and grandchildren are more likely to have it when parents or grandparents have had the disorder.

No symptoms, but complications

High triglycerides don’t manifest with specific symptoms so there are no headaches, no chest discomfort, no arrhythmias, and no fatigue. In short, there are no signs in regard to the increase of these substances in the blood.

There are complications arising from the disorder though. In fact, it represents a major problem for the medical clinic. Sometimes, people come to an emergency consultation for a coronary event derived from their elevated triglycerides, and they didn’t even know it.

One must suspect elevation and track blood lipid values in obese people, in those with a family history, and in those with other cardiac risk factors, such as hypertension and diabetics.

In any case, a detection of a normal value doesn’t rule out the probability of infarction or stroke in people with other comorbidities.

A lab technician holding a sample.
High triglycerides have no obvious clinical manifestations so it’s advisable to undergo a laboratory analysis if you have reasons to suspect it.

Ways to counteract the causes of high triglycerides

You can take measures to lower triglyceride values in the blood when you detect high levels. In those cases, the physician will prescribe a specific drug, such as statins, if necessary.

In any case, international guidelines and scientific studies agree that statins alone, without a lifestyle change, won’t have long-lasting effects. Some of the modifications doctors usually prescribe are:

  • A decrease of saturated fats and trans fats in the diet
  • Regular physical exercise
  • Increasing physical activity

You must combine treatment with drugs other than statins if nothing is sufficient, or the values detected exceed 500 milligrams per deciliter. It’s possible for the doctor to suggest fibrates, niacin, and omega-3 supplements, as indicated in the consensus of the Sociedad Española de Arterioesclerosis.

In any case, high triglycerides are a warning no one should ignore. Their silent presence represents a latent risk that can, fortunately, be controlled if there’s timely detection.

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