Medical Definition of Triglycerides

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Triglycerides: The major form of fat stored by the body. A triglyceride consists of three molecules of fatty acid combined with a molecule of the alcohol glycerol. Triglycerides serve as the backbone of many types of lipids (fats). Triglycerides come from the food we eat as well as from being produced by the body.

Triglyceride levels are influenced by recent fat and alcohol intake, and should be measured after fasting for at least 12 hours. A period of abstinence from alcohol is advised before testing for triglycerides.

Elevated triglyceride levels are considered to be a risk factor for atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) because many of the triglyceride-containing lipoproteins that transport fat in the bloodstream also transport cholesterol, a known contributor to atherosclerosis.

Markedly high triglyceride levels (greater than 500mg/dl) can cause inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis). Therefore, these high levels should be treated aggressively with low fat diets and medications, if needed.

The word "triglyceride" reflects the fact that a triglyceride consists of three ("tri-") molecules of fatty acid combined with a molecule of the alcohol glycerol ("-glyceride") that serves as the backbone in many types of lipids (fats).

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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