Metabolic Syndrome

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a group of physiological indicators that, when occurring together, greatly increase the possibility of several major medical conditions, including heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Other names for metabolic syndrome are syndrome X, dysmetabolic syndrome, and insulin resistance syndrome. The indicators include high blood pressure, elevated blood glucose levels, high triglyceride and low HDL (good) cholesterol counts, and excessive fat deposits on the abdomen, waist, and hips. Though metabolic syndrome can be a predictor of serious health issues, the good news is that many of these indicators are lifestyle related. Treatment largely consists of changes in diet, increased physical activity, and exerting control over unhealthy habits and behaviors. 

Medical science has only recently begun emphasizing the prevention of metabolic syndrome as a means of reducing the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. By some estimates, nearly one-quarter of all adult Americans may suffer from it. To learn your cholesterol, triglyceride, glucose, and blood pressure numbers, as well as steps you can take to reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome, see your Baptist Health primary care physician.

What Are the Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome? What Are the Complications?

There are no obvious symptoms for most of the indicators that define metabolic syndrome. The one exception is weight gain in the abdominal or pelvic regions. The primary means by which most people first learn that they have issues with blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, or triglycerides is through readings or tests conducted by a medical professional. 

If the behaviors behind metabolic syndrome continue over time, they can trigger serious medical conditions with emergent symptoms, such as:

  • Acute coronary syndrome: The loss of blood flow to the heart caused by cholesterol-generated plaque directly results in angina or chest pain, as well as myocardial infarctions (heart attacks). 
  • Heart attack: Heart attacks are marked by a variety of symptoms, including chest pressure or pain, nausea, cold sweats, difficulty breathing, and sudden dizziness. 
  • Stroke: A stroke is a loss of blood flow to the brain – a “brain attack” that parallels a heart attack. Symptoms include numbness in the face or limbs, partial paralysis, blurred vision, difficulty speaking, and loss of balance or coordination. 
  • Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 or adult-onset diabetes is characterized by extreme thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, slow-healing cuts and sores, blurred vision, and unexpected weight loss. 

What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?

The development of metabolic syndrome is closely linked to weight gain, poor diet, and lack of physical activity. Insulin resistance may be an additional factor. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. When released into the bloodstream, it circulates with glucose to the cells of the body, where it stimulates the absorption of chemical energy by the cell nuclei. The process breaks down in persons with insulin resistance, so named because cells begin resisting the stimulus effect of the insulin molecules. When this happens, glucose remains unabsorbed in the bloodstream, creating a variety of potential health problems.

The following factors increase the likelihood of metabolic syndrome and one or more of the medical conditions with which it is associated:

  • Obesity: Excessive weight gain can lead to the development of “apple” and “pear” body shapes, which are closely tied to metabolic syndrome. 
  • Age: Your risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age. 
  • Ethnicity: Hispanics in the U.S. seem especially prone to metabolic syndrome. 
  • Certain medical conditions: Medical conditions other than heart disease and strokes have been linked to metabolic syndrome. These include gestational diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, sleep apnea, and polycystic ovary syndrome. 

How Is Metabolic Syndrome Diagnosed?

The National Institutes of Health has developed the following guidelines for metabolic syndrome. Any person with three or more of these markers is diagnosed:

Physiological Indicator Marker for Metabolic Syndrome
Obesity Measure Women’s waistline measurement: 35” or larger
Men’s waistline measurement: 40” or larger
HDL (Good) Cholesterol Count Women: Less than 40 mg/dL 
Men: Less than 50 mg/dL
Triglyceride Count Greater than 150 mg/dL
Fasting Glucose or Blood Sugar Count 100 mg/dL or higher
Blood Pressure 130/85 mm Hg or higher

Units of measure: mg/dL = milligrams per deciliter; mm Hg = millimeters of mercury

All these tests, readings, and measurements can be obtained by your primary care physician or medical personnel working in his or her office.

How is Metabolic Syndrome Treated?

Because metabolic syndrome is largely a consequence of lifestyle, it can be treated through behavioral change. The following steps are recommended:

  • Weight loss: Blood pressure and insulin resistance can be lowered by losing between seven and ten percent of your total body weight. Much of this will come off of your midsection.
  • Wellness diet: A wellness diet includes lean protein, vegetables, fruits, and high-fiber whole grains. Reduce or avoid salt, sugar, saturated and trans fats, and sweetened beverages such as sodas. Limit alcohol consumption to one or two drinks a day. 
  • Exercise: Physical activity is critical to weight loss but has other health benefits as well. A reasonable goal is at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, which can include walking and other low-impact activities.
  • Stress management: Reducing stress is another key wellness strategy. In addition to physical activity, try yoga or meditation. A good night’s sleep is important too. 
  • Smoking cessation: Stop using all tobacco products. 

These steps are also effective in preventing metabolic syndrome. 

Next Steps with MyChart

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