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If you stood on the sidewalk to ask passersby about triglycerides, few people would know the facts. It’s when your doctor says your triglycerides are too high that they become interesting because knowing all the facts is now a priority.

1. What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in your body. You get some from the food you eat, and your body makes some. Your triglycerides are more likely to be high if you have one or more of these health issues: high cholesterol or low HDL, diabetes or pre-diabetes, or heart problems such as high blood pressure. If you’re overweight and have a large waistline, you’re also at increased risk for high levels.

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2. What should my triglyceride level be?

Your doctor may recommend a goal of 150 mg/dL or less. Recently, though, The American Heart Association has suggested a lower level as being optimal for health: less than 100 mg/dL.

3. Why are high triglycerides dangerous?

They can increase your chances of having a heart attack or stroke, especially when they are accompanied by a low HDL. They also make you more likely to develop diabetes.

  • You’re on your way to being high risk if your number is between 151-200 mg/dL.
  • You have a higher risk of heart disease if your number is above 200 mg/dL.
  • Your doctor may prescribe medicine in addition to other steps you already take if your number is above 500 mg/dL.

4. What can I do on my own to lower my triglycerides?

Lifestyle changes -- diet, exercise, and weight loss -- are effective ways to improve your levels. Ask your doctor for a sensible diet that will help you lower your levels. If you smoke, get suggestions on ways to help you quit. If your numbers are very high, you will likely need to take medicine to reach a healthy range.

5. Will eating certain foods increase my levels?

Yes. “White” foods -- sugar, bread, pasta, and potatoes can raise levels. Red meat, butter, and cheese contain triglyceride-raising fats, too. Alcohol can also increase your levels.

6. What types of exercise lowers my numbers?

Any kind is beneficial. Aerobic workouts such as a brisk walk or bike ride, a steady jog, or laps in the pool may especially help.

7. What’s the best way to lose weight?

Talk to your doctor about a weight loss plan that’s best for you. Make healthy changes every day -- choose smaller portions, keep a food diary, and limit your snacks. Add physical activity to help boost your metabolism and burn fat.

8. How long will I be on medicine?

You may need to take meds indefinitely to keep your triglyceride levels out of the danger zone. Stick with your new healthy habits, and you may be able to work with your doctor to reduce the amount of medicine you take -- or stop it altogether.