Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke.

You must have at least three metabolic risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.

These conditions are

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood glucose, or blood sugar, levels
  • High levels of triglycerides, a type of fat, in your blood
  • Low levels of HDL, the good cholesterol, in your blood
  • Too much fat around your waist

Not all doctors agree on the definition or cause of metabolic syndrome. The cause might be insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone your body produces to help you turn sugar from food into energy for your body. If you are insulin resistant, too much sugar builds up in your blood, setting the stage for disease.

Making heart-healthy lifestyle choices is the best way to prevent metabolic syndrome by:

  • Being physically active
  • Following a heart-healthy eating plan
  • Knowing your weight, waist measurement, and body mass index
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Make sure to schedule routine doctor visits to keep track of your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. Speak with your doctor about a blood test called a lipoprotein panel, which shows your levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

People at greatest risk for metabolic syndrome have these underlying causes:

  • Abdominal obesity (a large waistline)
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • Insulin resistance

Some people are at risk for metabolic syndrome because they take medicines that cause weight gain or changes in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. These medicines most often are used to treat inflammation, allergies, HIV, and depression and other types of mental illness.

Populations Affected

Some racial and ethnic groups in the United States are at higher risk for metabolic syndrome than others. Mexican Americans have the highest rate of metabolic syndrome, followed by whites and blacks.

Other groups at increased risk for metabolic syndrome include:

  • People who have a personal history of diabetes
  • People who have a sibling or parent who has diabetes
  • Women when compared with men
  • Women who have a personal history of polycystic ovarian syndrome

Heart Disease Risk

Metabolic syndrome increases your risk for coronary heart disease. Other risk factors, besides metabolic syndrome, also increase your risk for heart disease. For example, a high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level and smoking are major risk factors for heart disease. 

 

Metabolic syndrome is becoming very common in the United States. Doctors are not sure whether the syndrome is due to one single cause. But all of the risks for the syndrome are related to obesity.

The two most important risk factors for metabolic syndrome are:

  • Extra weight around the middle and upper parts of the body (central obesity). This body type may be described as "apple-shaped."
  • Insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. Insulin is needed to help control the amount of sugar in the blood. Insulin resistance means that some cells in the body use insulin less effectively than normal. As a result, blood sugar level rises, which causes insulin to rise. This may increase the amount of body fat.

Other risk factors include:

  • Aging
  • Genes that make you more likely to develop this condition
  • Changes in male, female, and stress hormones
  • Lack of exercise

People who have metabolic syndrome often have one or more other factors that may be linked with the condition, including:

  • Increased risk of blood clotting
  • Increased levels of blood substances that are a sign of inflammation throughout the body
  • Small amounts of a protein called albumin in the urine

Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that raises your risk for heart disease and other health problems, such as diabetes and stroke. These risk factors can increase your risk for health problems even if they're only moderately raised.

Most of the metabolic risk factors have no signs or symptoms, although a large waistline is a visible sign.

Some people may have symptoms of high blood sugar if diabetes—especially type 2 diabetes—is present. Symptoms of high blood sugar often include increased thirst; increased urination, especially at night; fatigue (tiredness); and blurred vision.

High blood pressure usually has no signs or symptoms. However, some people in the early stages of high blood pressure may have dull headaches, dizzy spells, or more nosebleeds than usual.

Metabolic syndrome is present if you have three or more of the following signs:

  • Blood pressure equal to or higher than 130/85 mmHg
  • Fasting blood sugar (glucose) equal to or higher than 100 mg/dL
  • Large waist circumference (length around the waist): For men, 40 inches or more; for women, 35 inches or more
  • Low HDL (good) cholesterol: For men, 40 mg/dL or less; for women, 50 mg/dL or less
  • Triglycerides equal to or higher than 150 mg/dL

The goal of treatment is to reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes or medicines:

  • Lose weight. The goal is to lose between 7% and 10% of your current weight. You will probably need to eat 500 to 1,000 fewer calories per day.
  • Get 30 - 60 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity exercise, such as walking, 5 to 7 days a week.
  • Lower your cholesterol by eating healthier foods, losing weight, exercising, and taking cholesterol-lowering medicines, if needed.
  • Lower your blood pressure by eating less salt, losing weight, exercising, and taking medicine, if needed.

Your doctor may recommend daily low-dose aspirin.

If you smoke, now is the time to quit.