Metabolic syndrome is a group of five risk factors that can increase your chance of developing heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. The five risk factors include:
- increased blood pressure (greater than 130/85)
- high blood sugar levels (insulin resistance)
- excess fat around the waist
- high triglyceride levels
- low levels of good cholesterol, or HDL
Having one of these risk factors does not mean that you have metabolic syndrome. However, having one of these risk factors will increase your chances of developing cardiovascular diseases. Having three or more of these factors will result in a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome and will increase your risk of health complications even more.
The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that 35 percent of adults currently have this condition.
The risk factors for metabolic syndrome are related to obesity. The two most important risk factors for developing the condition are defined by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute as:
- central obesity or excess fat around the middle and upper parts of the body
- insulin resistance, which makes it difficult for the body to use sugar
There are other factors that can increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome. One factor is your age. Less than 10 percent of people in their twenties have the syndrome, but 40 percent of people in their sixties have it. Other risk factors are not getting enough exercise and having other family members with the syndrome. Women who have been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, a metabolic disorder that affects hormones and the reproductive system, have an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
To diagnose metabolic syndrome, your doctor will need to perform several different tests. The results of these tests will be used to look for three or more signs of the disorder. Tests ordered to diagnose metabolic syndrome include:
- measurement of waist circumference
- fasting blood triglycerides
- cholesterol levels
- blood pressure
- fasting glucose level
Abnormalities noted on three or more of these tests will indicate the presence of metabolic syndrome.
The complications that may result from metabolic syndrome are frequently serious and long-term (chronic). They include:
- hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- heart attack
- kidney disease
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- peripheral artery disease
- cardiovascular disease
If diabetes develops, this can place you at risk for the development of additional health complications including:
- eye damage (retinopathy)
- nerve damage (neuropathy)
- kidney disease
- amputation of limbs
If you are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, the goal of treatment will be to reduce your risk of developing further health complications. Your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes that may include losing between seven and 10 percent of your current weight and getting at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise five to seven days a week. Your doctor may also suggest that you quit smoking.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce your blood pressure, cholesterol, and/or blood sugar. He or she also may prescribe low-dose aspirin to help reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack.
The outlook for people who develop metabolic syndrome can be quite good if symptoms of the disorder are managed. People who take their doctor’s advice, eat right, exercise, stop smoking, and lose weight will reduce their chances of developing serious health problems such as a heart attack or stroke.
Although treatment to reduce the symptoms of metabolic syndrome will help reduce health complications, most people with this condition will have a long-term risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If you develop this condition, you will need to be monitored by your doctor to help prevent serious health problems including heart attack or stroke.
Preventing metabolic syndrome is certainly possible. Maintaining a healthy waist circumference, healthy blood pressure levels, and healthy cholesterol levels reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome. Exercise and weight loss can aid in these efforts and help reduce the risk of insulin resistance.
In particular, you should eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You should also get moving. Regular physical activity will reduce your blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol levels. The key is to try to maintain a healthy weight. (Talk to your healthcare providers before beginning an exercise program or radically changing your diet.)
Prevention of metabolic syndrome will also require that you have regular physical exams. Your doctor can measure your blood pressure and complete blood work that may indicate the early development of metabolic syndrome. Early diagnosis of the condition and treatment will reduce health complications over the long term.