In the Danish study, Benn and her colleagues looked at almost 14,000 men and women, all white, in Copenhagen, who had had baseline triglyceride and cholesterol levels taken between 1976 and 1978 and who were then followed for up to 33 years. During that time, 837 women and 837 men had an ischemic stroke.
For both men and women, higher non-fasting triglyceride levels were linked with an increased risk of stroke, even after adjusting for age, gender, smoking, alcohol use, lipid-lowering therapy, hormone therapy (in women) and other factors.
Women with triglyceride levels of 443 mg/dL had nearly quadruple the risk of suffering a stroke, compared to women whose levels were less than 89 mg/dL. Those with levels between 89 and 177 mg/dL had a 20 percent increased risk.
Mens' increased risk ranged from 20 percent to 2.3-times higher, with the risk increasing as triglyceride levels went up.
Increased cholesterol was not linked to an increased risk of stroke in women, though it was in men whose cholesterol was 348 mg/dL or higher.
The American Heart Association characterizes "normal" triglyceride levels as lower than 150 mg/dL.
Based on the findings of this latest study, "desirable levels of triglycerides are below 180 to 200 mg/dL," said Benn, who is with Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark.
"Patients should attempt to reach this goal through lifestyle changes [weight loss, reduction of intake of saturated fatty acids, cholesterol, and alcohol, more exercise, and cessation of smoking]," she said.
If that doesn't work, the provider should move to medication, he added. "If triglyceride levels are still above 200 mg/dL after three months," she said, "the patient should be treated with lipid-lowering medication [statin, fibrates, and niacin]."
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