What Is Metabolic Syndrome?
Do you have metabolic syndrome? Find out how you can reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

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What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

You may already know that being overweight can raise your risk for many diseases. But did you know that having a lot of fat around your middle may also be a sign of metabolic syndrome?

What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of health conditions that together put you at greater risk for heart disease, diabetes and other health problems such as stroke. The more risk factors you have, the greater your risk for developing these health problems. These risk factors are often seen in people who are overweight or obese. About 35 percent of adults have metabolic syndrome.

Medical groups differ on the exact definition of metabolic syndrome. According to the National Cholesterol Education Program, you must have three or more of these risk factors:

  • Large waistline. Greater than 40 inches for men. Greater than 35 inches for women. Excess stomach fat is more of a risk factor for heart disease than fat anywhere else in the body.
  • High level of triglycerides. Equal to or greater than 150 mg/dL. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood.
  • Low level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women. HDL is regarded as the good cholesterol. Too little HDL in your blood raises your chance for developing heart disease.
  • High blood pressure. Equal to or greater than 130/85 mmHg. High blood pressure raises your risk for heart disease.
  • High fasting blood sugar levels. Equal to or greater than 110 mg/dL. If your levels are between 100 and 125 mg/dL, you may have prediabetes.

Three of the biggest risk factors for development of metabolic syndrome are a large waist, lack of activity and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is when the body cannot properly use the insulin that the body makes. Eighty-five percent of people with type 2 diabetes also have metabolic syndrome.

Signs and symptoms
Most risk factors have no symptoms. A large waist is the only obvious visible sign that you could be at risk for metabolic syndrome. If you have high blood sugar levels, you may have these symptoms:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Blurry vision
  • Fatigue

See your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms. However, some people with prediabetes and many with type 2 diabetes have no symptoms.

Treatment can help
Metabolic syndrome is treated through lifestyle changes and medication.

The following lifestyle changes can help reduce risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. They can also help you manage these conditions.

  • Lose weight (if you are overweight). Losing even a few pounds helps lower your health risks.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Choose foods that are low in saturated fats, added sugars and salt. Avoid trans fats. Focus on fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Pick lean sources of protein and low-fat or fat-free dairy products.
  • Exercise regularly. Talk to your doctor before you start any exercise program. Then with your doctor's OK, start slowly and gradually increase activity. Most people should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic exercise and at least two days of muscle-strengthening activities each week.
  • Stop smoking. Ask your doctor about programs that can help you quit.

Your doctor may also prescribe drugs to help control your cholesterol, blood pressure or blood sugar. For some people at risk of heart attack and stroke, their doctor may recommend that they take aspirin daily.

Prevention - be proactive
The ways to treat metabolic syndrome are also the ways to prevent it. Making healthy changes to your lifestyle can decrease your risk factors.

Have your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels checked regularly. You and your doctor will be able to respond quickly if risk factors appear. 

Emily A. King contributed to this report.

By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Contributing Writer
Created on 08/26/2002
Updated on 12/12/2012
  • American Heart Association. About metabolic syndrome.
  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. What is metabolic syndrome?
  • UpToDate. Metabolic syndrome overview.
  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Third report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) expert panel on detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood cholesterol in adults (Adult Treatment Panel III).
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