Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist or abnormal cholesterol levels — that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Having just one of these conditions doesn't mean you have metabolic syndrome. However, any of these conditions increase your risk of serious disease. If more than one of these conditions occur in combination, your risk is even greater.
If you have metabolic syndrome or any of the components of metabolic syndrome, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.
Having metabolic syndrome means you have three or more disorders related to your metabolism at the same time, including:
Having one component of metabolic syndrome means you're more likely to have others. And the more components you have, the greater are the risks to your health.
When to see a doctor
Apple and pear body shapes
People who have the metabolic syndrome typically have apple-shaped bodies, meaning they have larger waists and carry a lot of weight around their abdomens. It's thought that having a pear-shaped body ...
The metabolic syndrome includes several symptoms that have different causes.
Normally, your digestive system breaks down the foods you eat into sugar (glucose). Your blood carries the glucose to your body's tissues, where the cells use it as fuel. Glucose enters your cells with the help of insulin. In people with insulin resistance, cells don't respond normally to insulin, and glucose can't enter the cells as easily. As a result, glucose levels in your blood rise despite your body's attempt to control the glucose by churning out more and more insulin. The result is higher than normal levels of insulin in your blood. This can eventually lead to diabetes when your body is unable to make enough insulin to control the blood glucose within the normal range.
Even if your levels aren't high enough to be considered diabetes, an elevated glucose level can still be harmful. In fact, some doctors refer to this condition as "prediabetes." Increased insulin raises your triglyceride level and other blood fat levels. It also interferes with how your kidneys work, leading to higher blood pressure. These combined effects of insulin resistance put you at risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other conditions.
Combination of factors
The following factors increase your chances of having metabolic syndrome:
Having metabolic syndrome can increase your risk of developing these conditions:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to an endocrinologist, who specializes in diabetes, among other disorders, or a cardiologist, who specializes in heart disease.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For metabolic syndrome, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Although your doctor is not typically looking for metabolic syndrome, the label may apply if you have three or more of the traits associated with this condition.
Several organizations have criteria for diagnosing metabolic syndrome. These guidelines were created by the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) with modifications by the American Heart Association. According to these guidelines, you have metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of these traits:
Treatments and drugs
Tackling one of the risk factors of metabolic syndrome is tough — taking on all of them might seem overwhelming. But aggressive lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication can improve all of the metabolic syndrome components. Getting more physical activity, losing weight and quitting smoking help reduce blood pressure and improve cholesterol and blood sugar levels. These changes are key to reducing your risk.
Work with your doctor to monitor your weight and your blood glucose, cholesterol and blood pressure levels to ensure that lifestyle modifications are working. If you're not able to reach your goals with lifestyle changes, your doctor may also prescribe medications to lower blood pressure, control cholesterol or help you lose weight. Taking a daily aspirin — after discussing it with your doctor — may help reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You can do something about your risk of metabolic syndrome and its complications — diabetes, stroke and heart disease. Start by making these lifestyle changes:
Whether you have one, two or none of the components of metabolic syndrome, the following lifestyle changes will reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke:
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Last Updated: 2011-10-08
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