Metabolic syndrome

“Metabolic” refers to the biochemical processes that allow your body to function normally. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that have been found to increase your chance of developing heart disease. A person with metabolic syndrome has increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels. They are twice as likely to develop heart disease and five times more likely to develop diabetes than someone without it.

What causes metabolic syndrome?

It is primarily caused by obesity and inactivity. Although even one risk factor increases your risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome requires diagnosis of at least three of these risk factors:

  • A low HDL cholesterol level – HDL is the “good” cholesterol that removes bad cholesterol from your arteries.
  • Excess abdominal fat – Fat in the stomach area is a greater risk factor for heart disease than fat in other parts of the body.
  • High fasting blood sugar – An elevated blood sugar level can be an early sign of diabetes.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) – Hypertension can damage your heart and lead to the buildup of plaque, a waxy substance that can narrow your arteries.
  • High triglyceride level – Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood.

Symptoms of metabolic syndrome

High fasting blood sugar may be a symptom of diabetes and can cause fatigue, increased thirst and urination, and fatigue. Otherwise, most of the risk factors of metabolic syndrome have no signs or symptoms. An increased waist circumference is a visible sign of excess abdominal fat.

How is metabolic syndrome diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose metabolic syndrome using a combination of a physical exam and the results from blood tests. Each of the five risk factors can be diagnosed independently.

  • A low HDL cholesterol level – A blood test can measure your cholesterol levels. An HDL cholesterol level of less than 50 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter) for women and less than 40 mg/dL for men is a metabolic syndrome risk factor.
  • Excess abdominal fat – Your doctor will measure your waist to see whether you have a large waistline. A waist measurement of over 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men is a metabolic syndrome risk factor.
  • High fasting blood sugar – A blood test can measure your blood sugar levels. A fasting blood sugar level between 100 and 125 mg/dL is considered prediabetes, and 126 mg/dL and above is considered diabetes. Both are metabolic syndrome risk factors.
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) – A blood pressure screening can diagnose hypertension. A blood pressure level of 130/85 mmHg or higher is a metabolic syndrome risk factor. If even one of these numbers is too high, you’re at risk.
  • High triglyceride level – A blood test can measure your triglyceride levels. A level of 150 mg/dL or higher is a metabolic syndrome risk factor.

How is metabolic syndrome treated?

Metabolic syndrome can be managed through lifestyle changes and medication, if necessary. To start, your doctor will recommend the following:

  • Losing weight
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet
  • Quitting smoking
  • Getting daily physical activity

If lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough, you may be prescribed medication to lower high blood pressure, triglycerides and blood sugar. You may also be prescribed blood thinners to reduce your risk of blood clots, which are common in people with metabolic syndrome.