Harvard Women's Health Watch

In Brief: New way to test triglycerides helps reveal women's heart risk

In Brief

New way to test triglycerides helps reveal women's heart risk

When clinicians test your blood level of lipids to assess cardiovascular risk, they usually draw the blood after an overnight fast. Research suggests that it may be better to do the test after a meal. Two long-term studies published in the July 18, 2007, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) show an association between elevated nonfasting triglycerides and later cardiovascular problems such as heart attack, stroke, and cardiac death — especially in women.

One study followed almost 14,000 Danish residents for an average of 26 years and found that women with the highest nonfasting triglyceride levels were five times more likely to die from a heart attack or other cardiac event than women with the lowest levels. (Men with the highest levels had only twice the risk of those with the lowest levels.) The second study, conducted by Harvard researchers and involving more than 25,000 women, found that nonfasting triglyceride levels predicted heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems even independently of other risk factors, including smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, and markers of insulin resistance. Fasting triglyceride levels showed little independent association with cardiovascular events.

According to current guidelines, blood for a lipid profile — which measures total cholesterol, "bad" LDL cholesterol, "good" HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides — should be taken after eight to 12 hours without food or drink (except water). However, aside from being away from food overnight, people aren't normally in a fasting state.

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