What is metabolic syndrome?
A metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. These conditions include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, excess body fat around the waistline, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
Having just one of these conditions does not mean you have metabolic syndrome. But it does mean that you are at higher risk for serious illness. And if you develop more of these conditions, your risk of complications, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, increases even more.
Metabolic syndrome is becoming more common, with up to one-third of American adults suffering from it. If you have metabolic syndrome or slightly of its components, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the advance of serious health problems.
- Syndrome X
Types of metabolic syndrome
- Lysosomal storage disorders
- Hurler syndrome
- Maple syrup urine disease
- Phenylketonuria (PKU)
- Glycogen storage diseases
- Mitochondrial disorders
- Friedreich’s ataxia
- Peroxisomal disorders
- Metal metabolism disorders
- Organic acidemias
- Urea cycle disorders
Symptoms of metabolic syndrome
Most of the disorders associated with metabolic syndrome have no obvious signs or symptoms. A visible sign is a large waist circumference. And if your blood sugar is high, you may notice the signs and symptoms of diabetes, such as increased thirst and urination, fatigue, and blurred vision.
Causes of metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is closely related to being overweight or obese and inactivity.
It is also linked to a condition called insulin resistance. Normally, your digestive system breaks down the food you eat into sugar. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps sugar enter cells to be used for fuel.
In people with insulin resistance, cells do not respond normally to insulin and glucose cannot enter cells as easily. As a result, your blood sugar levels rise even as your body produces more and more insulin to try to lower your blood sugar.
Risk factors for metabolic syndrome
The following factors increase your risks of having metabolic syndrome:
- Years: Your risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age.
- Ethnicity: In the United States, Hispanics, especially Hispanic women, appear to be at the highest risk of developing the syndrome X.
- Obesity: Carrying too much weight, especially in the abdomen, increases the risk of metabolic syndrome.
- Diabetes: You are more likely to have metabolic syndrome if you had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes.
- Other diseases: Your risk of metabolic syndrome is higher if you have ever had nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovarian syndrome, or sleep apnea.
Diagnosis of metabolic syndrome
Not all medical guidelines agree on the exact thresholds to use for the diagnosis of metabolic syndrome.
Controversy remains, for example, about the best way to measure and define obesity. Options include body mass index (BMI), height-to-waist ratio, or other means. A person may also have high blood pressure or high blood glucose, for example, which is not related to obesity.
The above criteria were created in an attempt to harmonize diagnoses. However, doctors will also consider an individual’s circumstances.
Treatment for metabolic syndrome
If you are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, the goal of treatment will be to decrease your risk of developing more health complications. Your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes that may include losing 7 to 10 percent of your current weight and getting at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise five to seven days a week. They may also suggest that you quit smoking.
Your doctor may prescribe medicine to lower 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.
Having metabolic syndrome can increase your risk of emerging:
- Type 2 diabetes. If you don’t make lifestyle changes to control your excess weight, you can develop insulin resistance, which can cause your blood sugar levels to rise. Over time, insulin confrontation can lead to type 2 diabetes.
- Heart and blood vessel disease. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can contribute to plaque buildup in the arteries. These plaques can narrow and harden the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
A metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol stages, and additional fat in the abdomen. Having these risk factors dramatically increases your risk for diabetes and heart and blood vessel disease.
Experts say that you can prevent syndrome X in the same way that you would treat it. You need to make sensible changes to your lifestyle. You should:
- Start slowly. The American Heart Association recommends, if possible, that you gradually exercise most days of the week for 30 to 60 minutes. Consult your healthcare provider if you have physical limitations or concerns.
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, and don’t eat saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and salt.
- Lose weight if you are overweight
- Stop smoking if you smoke, now
- Schedule regular checkups with your doctor. Since syndrome X has no symptoms, you need regular visits to the doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.
Of course, if you already have some of the risk factors, your chances of developing the syndrome X are higher. You need to work hard to prevent it. You shouldn’t wait if you have:
- Unhealthy cholesterol levels
- High blood sugar level
- Excess weight, especially around the abdomen
If these conditions apply to you, act now, before you actually develop metabolic syndrome. Losing as little as 10% of your body weight can help lower your blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol levels.