Metabolic syndrome

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a group of health problems that include too much fat around the waist, elevated blood pressure, high triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and low HDL cholesterol.

Together, this group of health problems increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.

What causes metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is caused by an unhealthy lifestyle that includes eating too many calories, being inactive, and gaining weight, particularly around your waist. This lifestyle can lead to insulin resistance, a condition in which the body is unable to respond normally to insulin. If you have insulin resistance, your body cannot use insulin properly, and your blood sugar will begin to rise. Over time, this can lead to type 2 diabetes.

What are the symptoms?

If you have metabolic syndrome, you have several disorders of the metabolism at the same time, including obesity (usually around your waist), high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and resistance to insulin.

Why is metabolic syndrome important?

Research has shown that having this syndrome increases your risk for coronary artery disease (CAD), even beyond that caused by high LDL cholesterol alone.1

What increases your chance of developing metabolic syndrome?

The things that make you more likely to develop metabolic syndrome include:2

  • Insulin resistance . Insulin resistance means that your body cannot use insulin properly.
  • Abdominal obesity. Having too much fat around your waist is another major risk factor.
  • Age. Your chances of developing metabolic syndrome increase as you get older.
  • Lack of exercise. If you do not exercise, you are more likely to be obese and develop metabolic syndrome.
  • Hormone imbalance. A hormone disorder such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition in which the female body produces too much of certain hormones, is associated with metabolic syndrome.
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes. Having parents or close relatives with diabetes is associated with metabolic syndrome.
  • Weight gain, especially around your waist.
  • A history of diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes).
  • Race and ethnicity. African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islanders are at higher risk than whites for type 2 diabetes.3

How is metabolic syndrome diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose metabolic syndrome with a physical exam, your medical history, and some simple blood tests.

You may be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of the risk factors listed in the table below. Note: Other organizations may have different criteria for diagnosis.

Criteria for metabolic syndrome 2

Risk factor

Defining level

Abdominal obesity (waist measurement)

Men: Greater than 40 in. (101.6 cm)

Asian men: Greater than 36 in. (91.4 cm)

Women: Greater than 35 in. (88.9 cm)

Asian women: Greater than 32 in. (81.3 cm)

Triglycerides

150 mg/dL or higher, or taking medicine for high triglycerides

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol

Men: Less than 40 mg/dL

Women: Less than 50 mg/dL

Or taking medicine for low HDL cholesterol

Blood pressure

130/85 mm Hg or higher, or taking medicine for high blood pressure

Fasting blood sugar

100 mg/dL or higher, or taking medicine for high blood sugar

How is metabolic syndrome treated?

The main goal of treatment for metabolic syndrome is to reduce your risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) and diabetes. The first approaches in treating metabolic syndrome are:

  • Weight control. Being overweight is a major risk factor for CAD. Weight loss lowers LDL cholesterol and reduces all of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome.
  • Physical activity. Lack of exercise is a major risk factor for CAD. Regular physical activity reduces very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) levels, raises HDL cholesterol and, in some people, lowers LDL levels. It can also lower blood pressure, reduce insulin resistance, lower blood sugar levels, and improve heart function.
  • Assessing risk category for CAD. After your risk is determined, treatment to lower LDL to appropriate levels can begin along with treatment of other metabolic risk factors, including high blood pressure and insulin resistance.1

Organizations

American Diabetes Association (ADA)
1701 North Beauregard Street
Alexandria, VA  22311
Phone: 1-800-DIABETES (1-800-342-2383)
E-mail: AskADA@diabetes.org
Web Address: www.diabetes.org
 

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) is a national organization for health professionals and consumers. Almost every state has a local office. ADA sets the standards for the care of people with diabetes. Its focus is on research for the prevention and treatment of all types of diabetes. ADA provides patient and professional education mainly through its publications, which include the monthly magazine Diabetes Forecast, books, brochures, cookbooks and meal planning guides, and pamphlets. ADA also provides information for parents about caring for a child with diabetes.


American Heart Association (AHA)
7272 Greenville Avenue
Dallas, TX  75231
Phone: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721)
Web Address: www.americanheart.org
 

Call the American Heart Association (AHA) to find your nearest local or state AHA group. AHA can provide brochures and information about support groups and community programs, including Mended Hearts, a nationwide organization whose members visit people with heart problems and provide information and support. AHA's Web site also has information on physical activity, diet, and various heart-related conditions.


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Building 31, Room 9A06
31 Center Drive, MSC 2560
Bethesda, MD  20892-2560
Phone: (301) 496-3583
Web Address: www.niddk.nih.gov
 

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) provides information and conducts research on a wide variety of diseases as well as issues such as weight control and nutrition.


Citations

  1. Grundy SM (2001). United States cholesterol guidelines 2001: Expanded scope of intensive low-density lipoprotein-lowering therapy. American Journal of Cardiology, 88(7B): 23J–27J.
  2. Grundy SM, et al. (2005). Diagnosis and management of the metabolic syndrome: An American Heart Association/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Scientific Statement. Circulation, 112(17): 2735–2752.
  3. American Diabetes Association (2004). Screening for type 2 diabetes. Clinical Practice Recommendations 2004. Diabetes Care, 27(Suppl 1): S11–S14.

Last Updated: July 11, 2008

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