Metabolic syndrome is a group of five risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. The five risk factors are:
- increased blood pressure (greater than 130/85 mmHg)
- 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 will increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease. Having three or more of these factors will result in a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome and it will increase your risk of health complications.
The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that 23 percent of adults currently have metabolic syndrome.
The risk factors for metabolic syndrome are related to obesity. The two most important risk factors 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 for metabolic syndrome. These include:
- family history of metabolic syndrome
- not getting enough exercise
- women who have been diagnosed with polycystic ovary 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. Your doctor may check one or more of the following:
- 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, you may be at risk for 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 7 and 10 percent of your current weight and getting at least 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise five to seven days a week. They may also suggest that you quit smoking.
Your doctor may prescribe medications to reduce your blood pressure, cholesterol, and/or blood sugar. They may also prescribe low-dose aspirin to help reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack.
The outlook for people with metabolic syndrome can be quite good if symptoms 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 symptom management will reduce health complications, most people with this condition have a long-term risk of cardiovascular disease. If you develop this condition, you will need to be monitored by your doctor to help prevent serious health problems such as heart attack and stroke.
Preventing metabolic syndrome is certainly possible. Maintaining a healthy waist circumference and blood pressure and cholesterol levels reduce your risk for metabolic syndrome. Exercise and weight loss can aid in these efforts and decrease insulin resistance.
In particular, eat a healthy diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Exercise is also important when it comes to preventing this condition. Regular physical activity will reduce your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. The key is to try to maintain a healthy weight. Talk to your doctor 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.