METABOLIC SYNDROME A TIMELY CONCERN & RISK FACTORS
Metabolic syndrome is a group of five conditions that can lead to heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other health problems. Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when someone has three or more of these risk factors:
- High blood glucose (sugar)
- Low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol in the blood
- High levels of triglycerides in the blood
- Large waist circumference or “apple-shaped” body
- High blood pressure
Although each of these is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, when a person has three or more and is diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, the chance of developing a serious cardiovascular condition increases. For example, high blood pressure is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but when combined with high fasting blood sugar levels and abdominal obesity (large waistline), the chance for developing cardiovascular disease is even higher.
Metabolic syndrome is a serious health condition that puts people at higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and diseases related to fatty buildups in artery walls (atherosclerosis). Underlying causes of metabolic syndrome include being overweight and obesity, insulin resistance, physical inactivity, genetic factors and increasing age.
What increases your chance of developing metabolic syndrome?
The things that make you more likely to develop metabolic syndrome include:
- Insulin resistance. This means that your body cannot use insulin properly.
- Abdominal obesity. This means having too much fat around your waist.
- 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 linked with metabolic syndrome.
- Family history of type 2 diabetes. Having parents or close relatives with diabetes is associated with metabolic syndrome.
- A history of diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes).
- Race and ethnicity. People with Indigenous, African, Hispanic, Asian, and Pacific Islander backgrounds are at higher risk than whites for type 2 diabetes.
Most of the disorders associated with metabolic syndrome don't have obvious signs or symptoms. One sign that is visible is a large waist circumference. And if your blood sugar is high, you might notice the signs and symptoms of diabetes — such as increased thirst and urination, fatigue, and blurred vision.
Metabolic syndrome is closely linked to being overweight or obesity and inactivity.
It's also linked to a condition called insulin resistance. Normally, your digestive system breaks down the foods you eat into sugar. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that helps sugar enter your cells to be used as fuel.
In people with insulin resistance, cells don't respond normally to insulin and glucose can't enter the cells as easily. As a result, your blood sugar levels rise even as your body churns out more and more insulin to try to lower your blood sugar.
Risk factorsThe following factors increase your chances of having metabolic syndrome:
- Your risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age.
- In the United States, Hispanics — especially Hispanic women — appear to be at the greatest risk of developing metabolic syndrome. The reasons for this are not entirely clear.
- Carrying too much weight, especially in your abdomen, increases your risk of metabolic syndrome.
- You're 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've ever had nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome or sleep apnea.
ComplicationsHaving metabolic syndrome can increase your risk of developing:
- Type 2 diabetes. If you don't make lifestyle changes to control your excess weight, you may develop insulin resistance, which can cause your blood sugar levels to rise. Eventually, insulin resistance can lead to type 2 diabetes.
- Heart and blood vessel disease. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can contribute to the buildup of plaques in your arteries. These plaques can narrow and harden your arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
When to see a doctorIf you know you have at least one component of metabolic syndrome, ask your doctor whether you need testing for other components of the syndrome.
For metabolic syndrome, basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What conditions are causing metabolic syndrome for me?
- How can I reduce the risk of other health conditions caused by metabolic syndrome?
- Will losing weight help my condition? What about exercise?
- Do I need any additional tests?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Should I see a specialist?
- Are there brochures or other printed material I can have? What websites do you recommend?
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor can diagnose metabolic syndrome with a physical examination, 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. Note: These criteria were developed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Other organizations may have different criteria for diagnosis.
The main goal of treatment 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 exercise can help improve cholesterol levels. It can also lower blood pressure, reduce insulin resistance, lower blood sugar levels, and improve heart function.
- Assessing risk category for CAD and diabetes. Then you and your doctor may discuss other treatments to lower LDL, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar.
Lifestyle and home remedies
If you've been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome or any of its components, making healthy lifestyle changes can help prevent or delay serious health problems, such as a heart attack or stroke. A healthy lifestyle includes:
- Regular physical activity. Health experts recommend getting at least 30 minutes of exercise, such as brisk walking, daily. But you don't have to do that activity all at once. Look for ways to increase activity any chance you get, such as walking instead of driving and using the stairs instead of an elevator.
- Weight loss. Losing 7% of your body weight can reduce insulin resistance and blood pressure and decrease your risk of diabetes. In fact, any amount of weight loss is beneficial. It's also important to maintain your weight loss. If you're struggling with losing weight and keeping it off, talk to your doctor about what options might be available to help you, such as medications or weight-loss surgery.
- Healthy diet. Healthy-eating plans, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet, emphasize eating vegetables, fruits, high-fiber whole grains and lean protein. Healthy-eating plans tend to recommend limiting sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, salt, sugar and fat, especially saturated fat and trans fat.
- Stopping smoking. Giving up cigarettes greatly improves your overall health. Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting.
- Reducing or managing stress. Physical activity, meditation, yoga and other programs can help you handle stress and improve your emotional and physical health.
PreventionA lifelong commitment to a healthy lifestyle may prevent the conditions that cause metabolic syndrome. A healthy lifestyle includes:
- Getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days
- Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains
- Limiting saturated fat and salt in your diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Not smoking
This disease really is a “sign of the times”. The way we live and the kinds of food that we eat leaves a mark and puts so much stress on our bodies, both inside and out. Making the right choices in our lifestyle means a healthier and happier life.