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What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems. You can have just one risk factor, but people often have several of them together. When you have at least three of them, it is called metabolic syndrome. These risk factors include:
- A large waistline, also called abdominal obesity or "having an apple shape." Too much fat around the stomach is a greater risk factor for heart disease than too much fat in other parts of the body.
- Having a high triglyceride level. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.
- Having a low HDL cholesterol level. HDL is sometimes called the "good" cholesterol because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries.
- Having high blood pressure. If your blood pressure stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to other health problems.
- Having a high fasting blood sugar. Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.
The more factors you have, the higher your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke is.
What causes metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome has several causes that act together:
- Overweight and obesity
- An inactive lifestyle
- Insulin resistance, a condition in which the body can't use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar into your cells to give them energy. Insulin resistance can lead to high blood sugar levels.
- Age - your risk goes up as get older
- Genetics - ethnicity and family history
People who have metabolic syndrome often also have excessive blood clotting and inflammation throughout the body. Researchers don't know whether these conditions cause metabolic syndrome or worsen it.
Who is at risk for metabolic syndrome?
The most important risk factors for metabolic syndrome are:
- Abdominal obesity (a large waistline)
- An inactive lifestyle
- Insulin resistance
There are certain groups of people who have an increased risk of metabolic syndrome:
- Some racial and ethnic groups. Mexican Americans have the highest rate of metabolic syndrome, followed by whites and blacks.
- People who have diabetes
- People who have a sibling or parent who has diabetes
- Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- People who take medicines that cause weight gain or changes in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels
What are the symptoms of metabolic syndrome?
Most of the metabolic risk factors have no obvious signs or symptoms, except for a large waistline.
How is metabolic syndrome diagnosed?
Your health care provider will diagnose metabolic syndrome based on the results of a physical exam and blood tests. You must have at least three of the risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome:
- A large waistline, which means a waist measurement of
- 35 inches or more for women
- 40 inches or more for men
- A high triglyceride level, which is 150 mg/dL or higher
- A low HDL cholesterol level, which is
- Less than 50 mg/dL for women
- Less than 40 mg/dL for men
- High blood pressure, which is a reading of 130/85 mmHg or higher.
- A high fasting blood sugar, which is 100 mg/dL or higher
What are the treatments for metabolic syndrome?
The most important treatment for metabolic syndrome is a heart-healthy lifestyle, which includes:
- A heart-healthy eating plan, which limits the amount of saturated and trans fats that you eat. It encourages you to choose a variety of nutritious foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.
- Aiming for a healthy weight
- Managing stress
- Getting regular physical activity
- Quitting smoking (or not starting if you don't already smoke)
If making lifestyle changes is not enough, you may need to take medicines. For example, you may need medicines to lower cholesterol or blood pressure.
Can metabolic syndrome be prevented?
The best way to prevent metabolic syndrome is through the heart-healthy lifestyle changes.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- Metabolic Syndrome (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- What Is Metabolic Syndrome? (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- Symptoms and Diagnosis of Metabolic Syndrome (American Heart Association)
- Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases) Also in Spanish
- Insulin Resistance and Prediabetes (National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases) Also in Spanish
- Obesity (Endocrine Society)
- Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes (Endocrine Society)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Insulin Resistance (National Institutes of Health)
- ClinicalTrials.gov: Metabolic Syndrome (National Institutes of Health)
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Effect of propolis on mood, quality of life, and metabolic profiles...
- Article: Association between Metabolic Syndrome Status and Daily Physical Activity Measured by...
- Article: Evaluating the Effectiveness of Letter and Telephone Reminders in Promoting the...
- Metabolic Syndrome -- see more articles
- Metabolic Syndrome (For Parents) (Nemours Foundation) Also in Spanish
- Metabolic syndrome (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish