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If you stood on the sidewalk and asked people about triglycerides, few would know the facts. But if your doctor says your triglycerides are too high here are some of the things you'd need to know:

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 levels of LDL -- the “bad” cholesterol -- or low levels of HDL – the “good” cholesterol. Your levels may also be high with other conditions such as diabetes, pre-diabetes, or heart problems such as high blood pressure. If you’re overweight and have a large waistline, you’re also at 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 is best for health. That level is 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 you have a low level of HDL. They also make you more likely to develop diabetes. Here are some facts to keep in mind:

  • You are on your way to being high risk if your number is between 151 and 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 boost your levels.

6. What types of exercise lower my numbers?

Any kind is helpful, especially aerobic workouts such as a brisk walk or bike ride, a steady jog, or swimming laps in the pool.

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

Talk to your doctor about a weight loss plan that’s best for you. Make positive changes, like choosing smaller portions, keeping a food diary, and limiting your snacks. Add physical activity to help boost your metabolism and burn fat.

8. How long will I be on medicine?

That depends. 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.