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Metabolic Syndrome

Also called: Insulin resistance syndrome, Metabolic syndrome X
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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:

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

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The information on this site should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. Contact a health care provider if you have questions about your health.