CDC: 1 in 5 Americans Have High Triglycerides

One in five Americans has high levels of blood fats called triglycerides that raise the risk of heart attacks, yet few people take drugs or other steps to control them, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

They also found one third of Americans have borderline high triglyceride levels.

A study earlier this year found the percentage of U.S. adults with high triglycerides had doubled over the past three decades, likely driven by climbing obesity rates.

Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked to see how widespread the problem is and how doctors are addressing it.

Like low-density lipoprotein or LDL, known as the "bad" cholesterol, triglycerides can raise the risk of heart attacks. Cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins help lower LDL, but they often do not treat high triglycerides, a blood fat derived from the fats people eat and fats in the body.

"Increasing evidence supports triglyceride concentration as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease," Dr. Earl Ford of the CDC and colleagues wrote in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

They studied data and blood samples for 5,610 people 20 or older who participated in a national health and nutrition survey between 1999 and 2004. They found that 33.1 percent had triglyceride concentrations between 150 and 199 milligrams per deciliter, a reading in the borderline high category.

They found 17.9 percent had concentrations of 200 milligrams per deciliter or higher, which is considered high; 1.7 percent had a concentration of 500 milligrams per deciliter or higher and 0.4 percent had a concentration of 1,000 milligrams per deciliter or higher.

Many of those with high triglycerides were older whites who smoked, were overweight or obese and got less than 150 minutes of exercise a week. Women had a lower risk than men, and blacks and Mexican Americans had lower risks than whites.

Only 1.3 percent used one of three medications — fenofibrate, gemfibrozil or niacin — to lower triglyceride concentrations, which may reflect uncertainty among doctors about the need to treat the condition, the researchers said.

They said treatment guidelines might change as research becomes available on the link between high triglycerides and heart attacks, the leading cause of death in the United States.