Can High Triglycerides Cause Fatigue?
Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood. High triglyceride levels tend to get less attention than the two other major forms of cholesterol in the body—low-density cholesterol (LDL or bad cholesterol) and high-density cholesterol (HDL or good cholesterol).
In this article, we’ll talk about normal triglyceride levels, what causes high triglycerides, and whether high triglycerides can cause symptoms like fatigue. We’ll also discuss lifestyle changes you can make to lower triglycerides and medications used to treat high triglyceride levels.
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat that comes mostly from diet. The body also produces triglycerides when it converts unused calories to fat for storage. While a certain amount of triglycerides are essential for the body’s ability to perform cell functions, more triglycerides above a certain level are unhealthy. High levels of triglycerides in the blood increase the risk of serious health conditions like cardiovascular disease.
How are triglycerides different than cholesterol?
Triglycerides and cholesterol are both fatty substances called lipids. They are different types of lipids that are found in the blood. As mentioned, most of the triglycerides in the body come from the food we eat. The body will also produce triglycerides by converting excess calories to fat for storage.
Cholesterol is needed in the body for certain essential cell functions. However, cholesterol is not a fat—it is a waxy substance made by the liver. There are two major types of cholesterol found in the body—low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also called bad cholesterol, and high-density lipoprotein (HDL), also called good cholesterol.
LDL can combine with other fats in the blood and create blockages in the arteries. Blocked arteries can reduce blood flow to vital organs like the heart and brain, which can lead to serious health problems like heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.
HDL transports harmful cholesterol out of the arteries and therefore has a protective effect.
Doctors recommend that you have higher blood levels of HDL cholesterol and lower blood levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
What are normal triglyceride levels?
Normal levels of triglycerides are as follows:
- Optimal: Under 90 mg/dL (1 mmol/L)
- Normal: Under 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L)
- Borderline High: 150 to 200 mg/dL (1.7 to 2.3 mmol/L)
- High: 200 to 500 mg/dL (2.3 to 5.6 mmol/L)
- Very High: 500 mg/dL or higher (5.6 mmol/L)
White people tend to have higher triglyceride levels than Black people. Men tend to have higher triglyceride levels than women.
What are the symptoms of high triglyceride levels?
High triglycerides do not typically cause any symptoms. They are usually diagnosed by a blood test. Symptoms often appear after the increased triglycerides have caused significant damage. For instance, a person may develop heart disease due to high triglycerides and suffer symptoms like angina (chest pain), shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, nausea, and fatigue.
What causes high triglycerides?
Eating a diet with lots of simple carbohydrates, saturated fats, and trans fats is the leading cause of high triglycerides and high LDL cholesterol. Saturated fats are mostly found in food products of animal origin, such as full-fat dairy (milk, butter, cheese) and red meat. Trans fats are found in animal products, fried foods, and processed foods like potato chips, cakes, cookies, pies, and frozen pizza.
Certain medical conditions can increase triglycerides and cholesterol levels, such as chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, diabetes, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), kidney disease, liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and Cushing’s syndrome. Certain medications can affect cholesterol levels as well.
Other factors contributing to high triglycerides include a lack of physical activity, smoking, and genetics (if close family members have high cholesterol, your risk is higher). Losing weight and leading a healthy lifestyle are natural ways to lower levels of triglycerides in the blood.
What are the health risks of having high triglyceride levels?
High triglycerides are one of the signs of metabolic syndrome, a collection of conditions that significantly increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Other conditions that are also signs of metabolic syndrome in addition to high triglycerides are high blood pressure, high blood sugar, low HDL cholesterol levels, and abdominal obesity.
Extremely high levels of triglycerides (over 1,000 mg/dL) can cause acute pancreatitis.
What can I do to lower triglycerides?
High triglycerides put you at increased risk of heart attack and stroke. It is especially important to work towards lowering triglycerides if you have other risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, or smoking.
Many of the steps that can help bring down triglyceride levels are also steps that can protect your heart and improve your overall health. These include:
- Losing weight if you're overweight (even a few pounds can make a difference).
- Getting regular aerobic exercise (any physical activity that increases your heart rate).
- Eating a healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat-free dairy products, healthy oils like olive oil, and lean meats, including poultry.
- Limiting the amount of saturated fat and trans fat in your diet.
- Keeping alcohol intake to none or moderate.
- Stopping smoking.
- Taking supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids.
What medications are used to treat high triglycerides?
If lifestyle changes are not enough, your doctor may prescribe medications to correct high triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. One of the most common types of medicines used for this purpose are called statins. Statins work by blocking the formation of cholesterol in the liver and absorbing cholesterol from the arteries. Statins can lower triglycerides by 20-40% in people with high triglycerides.
Fibrates are another type of drug that can significantly reduce triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels. Sometimes, doctors prescribe combination statin/fibrate therapy.
There are other medications available to lower triglyceride levels. If your triglycerides are high, it’s important to get medically reviewed so that your healthcare provider can decide if you need a medication and which medication is right for you.