Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a set of 5 health factors that can lead to serious health problems. The factors greatly increase your risk for diabetes, heart attack, or stroke. These conditions reflect overall resistance to the effects of insulin and increased inflammation all over your body.

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome means you have 3 or more of these 5 health factors:

  • Extra weight with a large waist. Being overweight or obese means that you weigh too much for what is healthy for your height. A large waist size is 40 inches or more for men, 35 inches or more for women.

  • High blood pressure (hypertension). Blood pressure is the force of blood against the inside of your blood vessels as your heart pumps. High blood pressure is a measurement of 130/80 mm Hg or higher. This makes your heart work harder. And it may damage your blood vessels.

  • High triglyceride level. Triglycerides are fats in the blood. A high triglyceride level is 150 mg/dL or more. If your level is high, you may have increased fatty deposits on the walls of your blood vessels.

  • Low HDL cholesterol. HDL is known as “good” cholesterol. It protects your blood vessels from harmful LDL cholesterol. Low HDL cholesterol means less than 40 mg/dL for men or 50 mg/dL for women. If your level is low, your blood vessels are not as protected.

  • High blood sugar (glucose). This means you have too much glucose in your blood. This happens when your body can't break down glucose as it should. Too much fasting glucose is 100 mg/dL or more. The extra glucose in the blood can damage the blood vessels. Everyone who has been diagnosed with diabetes would have this factor as part of metabolic syndrome.

Symptoms of metabolic syndrome

Most of the health factors that make up metabolic syndrome don’t have symptoms, other than extra weight and waist size. Raised (elevated) blood sugar will lead to signs of hyperglycemia. This includes increased urination and thirst.

Diagnosing metabolic syndrome

Your healthcare provider will diagnose metabolic syndrome based on a physical exam and tests. They will check your weight and waist size. Your blood pressure will be measured with a blood pressure cuff. Blood tests will be done to check your levels of triglycerides, HDL cholesterol, and blood glucose.

Treatment for metabolic syndrome

The goals of treatment for metabolic syndrome are to:

  • Lower your risk for heart disease and stroke

  • Prevent or manage type 2 diabetes

Treatment for metabolic syndrome includes:

  • Healthy lifestyle changes. This includes losing the extra weight, being physically active, following a healthy diet, and quitting smoking. Get help from your healthcare provider to make these changes. They can give you information, offer support, and advise other resources or specialists.

  • Medicines. You may take medicine to control blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar levels. You may also take other medicines to reduce your risk for heart and blood vessel problems.

Possible complications of metabolic syndrome

If not treated, metabolic syndrome can lead to:

  • Diabetes (This can lead to kidney disease, vision loss, and foot or leg amputation.)

  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction)

  • Heart failure

  • Stroke

  • Other heart and blood vessel problems (cardiovascular disease)

  • Obstructive sleep apnea

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Gout 

Can metabolic syndrome be prevented?

In many cases, metabolic syndrome can be prevented by having a healthy lifestyle.

Sticking to healthy changes

Making lifestyle changes isn’t always easy. Make sure to:

  • Create a plan with the help of your healthcare provider.

  • See your provider regularly. Make changes to your plan as needed.

  • Consider reaching out to family, friends, or community resources for support.

  • Keep in mind that you will have times where it’s hard to stick to your plan. But don't get discouraged. If you slip, start again the next day.

  • Work at it every day. Talk with your healthcare provider if you need help.

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