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?
This syndrome raises 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:1
- Insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means that your body cannot use insulin properly.
- Abdominal obesity. This means having too much fat around your waist.
- 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.
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: These criteria were developed by the American Heart Association. Other organizations may have different criteria for diagnosis.
Criteria for metabolic syndrome1
Abdominal obesity (waist measurement)
Men: Greater than 40 in. (102 cm)
Asian men: Greater than 36 in. (90 cm)
Women: Greater than 35 in. (88 cm)
Asian women: Greater than 32 in. (81 cm)
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
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.