What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is a collection of heart disease risk factors that increase your chance of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
The condition is also known by other names including Syndrome X, insulin resistance syndrome, and dysmetabolic syndrome. According to a
national health survey, more than one in five Americans has metabolic syndrome. The number of people with metabolic syndrome increases
with age, affecting more than 40 percent of people in their 60s and 70s.
What are these health risks?
You are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of the following:
- A waistline of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women (measured across the belly)
- A blood pressure of 130/85 mm Hg or higher or are taking blood pressure medications
- A triglyceride level above 150 mg/dl
- A fasting blood glucose (sugar) level greater than 100 mg/dl or are taking glucose-lowering medications
- A high density lipoprotein level (HDL) less than 40 mg/dl (men) or under 50 mg/dl (women)
Who typically has metabolic syndrome?
- People with central obesity (increased fat in the abdomen/waist)
- People with diabetes mellitus or a strong family history of diabetes mellitus
- People with other clinical features of “insulin resistance” including skin changes of acanthosis nigricans
(“darkened skin” on the back of the neck or underarms) or skin tags (usually on the neck)
What are the symptoms of metabolic syndrome?
Usually, there are no immediate physical symptoms. Medical problems associated with the metabolic syndrome develop over time.
If you are unsure if you have metabolic syndrome, see your health care provider. He or she will be able to make the diagnosis by obtaining
the necessary tests, including blood pressure, lipid profile (triglycerides and HDL), and blood glucose.
What causes metabolic syndrome?
The exact cause of metabolic syndrome is not known. Many features of the metabolic syndrome are associated with “insulin resistance.”
Insulin resistance means that the body does not use insulin efficiently to lower glucose and triglyceride levels. Insulin resistance is a combination
of genetic and lifestyle factors. Lifestyle factors include diet, activity and perhaps interrupted sleep patterns (such as sleep apnea).
If I have metabolic syndrome, what health problems might develop?
Consistently high levels of insulin and glucose are linked to many harmful changes to the body, including:
- Damage to the lining of coronary and other arteries, a key step toward the development of heart disease or stroke
- Changes in the kidneys' ability to remove salt, leading to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke
- An increase in triglyceride levels, resulting in an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease
- An increased risk of blood clot formation, which can block arteries and cause heart attacks and strokes
- A slowing of insulin production, which can signal the start of type 2 diabetes, a disease that is associated with an increased risk for a
heart attack or stroke. Uncontrolled diabetes is also associated with complications of the eyes, nerves, and kidneys.
How do I prevent or reverse metabolic syndrome?
Since physical inactivity and excess weight are the main underlying contributors to the development
of metabolic syndrome, getting more exercise and losing weight can help reduce or prevent the complications associated with this condition.
Your doctor may also prescribe medications to manage some of your underlying problems. Some of the ways you can reduce your risk:
- Lose weight - Moderate weight loss, in the range of 5 percent to 10 percent of body weight, can help restore your body's
ability to recognize insulin and greatly reduce the chance that the syndrome will evolve into a more serious illness.
- Exercise - Increased activity alone can improve your insulin levels. Aerobic exercise such as a brisk 30-minute daily walk can
result in a weight loss, improved blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of developing diabetes. Most health care
providers recommend 150 minutes of aerobic exercise each week. Exercise may reduce the risk for heart disease even without accompanying
- Consider dietary changes - Maintain a diet that keeps carbohydrates to no more than 50 percent of total calories. Eat foods defined
as complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread (instead of white), brown rice (instead of white), and sugars that are unrefined (instead of
refined; for example cookies, crackers). Increase your fiber consumption by eating legumes (for example, beans), whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Reduce your intake of red meats and poultry. Thirty percent of your daily calories should come from fat. Consume healthy fats such as those in canola
oil, olive oil, flaxseed oil and nuts.
- Limit alcohol intake - Consume no more than one drink a day for women, or two drinks a day for men.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Metabolic Syndrome.
Updated January 2010. Accessed January 6, 2011.
The American Heart Association. About Metabolic Syndrome.
www.heart.org. Updated July 2010. Accessed January 6, 2011.
Grundy SM, Brewer HB, Cleeman JI, Smith SC, Jr., Lenfant C, for the Conference Participants. Definition of Metabolic
Syndrome: Report of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute/American Heart Association Conference on Scientific Issues
Related to Definition. Circulation. 2004;109:433-438
circ.ahajournals.org. Accessed January 6, 2011.
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