What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome refers to a group of
conditions including obesity, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels
and resistance to insulin – which combine to increase your risk of heart
disease, stroke and diabetes. Having just one of these conditions increases
your risk of a serious disease. However in metabolic syndrome – when all the
conditions are present together – your risk is even greater.
Is metabolic syndrome a genuine condition?
The grouping together of all of these
conditions under the one heading, ‘Metabolic Syndrome’ is a relatively new
concept – and there has been much debate among medical professionals over the
exact definition of the syndrome and whether it is really a condition in its
However, it is at least well accepted that
some people do seem to have this clustering of risk factors for cardiovascular
disease. The term ‘metabolic syndrome’ is just a way of identifying those
people at increased risk for heart disease and diabetes.
How is metabolic syndrome diagnosed?
Since metabolic syndrome involves a number
of different conditions, your doctor will diagnose each component of the
syndrome (e.g., high blood pressure, high blood sugar) separately.
Different organisations around the world
have suggested various different criteria for diagnosing metabolic syndrome.
However, in general, if you are found to have a number of the following
factors, you may be identified as having the disorder:
- Obesity – with high body fat around your
- High blood pressure
- High levels of triglycerides (a certain
type of fat) in the blood,
- Low level of HDL – the ‘good’ cholesterol
- High blood glucose (sugar) level – due to insulin
The more components of metabolic syndrome
you have, the more you are at risk.
What causes metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is caused by a
combination of both genetic and lifestyle factors – such as being overweight
and a lack of exercise.
These factors trigger a chain of metabolic
changes in the body, which is thought to begin with the body becoming resistant
to a hormone called insulin. Insulin normally helps to control your blood sugar
level – developing resistance to insulin is a precursor to Type 2 diabetes. Insulin
resistance results in a higher than normal level of insulin and glucose (sugar)
in your blood – which can then lead to high blood pressure and an increase in
your blood fats.
What are the risk factors?
- Age – the prevalence of metabolic syndrome
increases with age
- Race – Hispanic and Asian people seem to
be at greater risk
- Family history of diabetes
- Obesity – especially high body fat around
the waist (an ‘apple’ shape, rather than a ‘pear’ shape)
- Low activity level
- High blood pressure and cardiovascular
- Hormone imbalance – for instance, polycystic
ovary syndrome is associated with metabolic syndrome.
How is metabolic syndrome treated?
The main goal of treatment for metabolic
syndrome is to reduce your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes.
The first step your doctor will probably
recommend is to make lifestyle changes. These may include getting more physical
activity, making changes to your diet and quitting smoking. This alone may be
enough to reduce your insulin resistance and blood pressure, and stop the
condition from progressing.
Your doctor may also prescribe you various
medications to lower your blood pressure, control your cholesterol and treat
your insulin resistance.