Having three or more specific risk factors, such as high blood pressure or abdominal fat, boosts your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. These conditions include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
Having just one of these conditions doesn't mean you have metabolic syndrome. But it does mean you have a greater risk of serious disease. And if you develop more of these conditions, your risk of complications, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, rises even higher.
Metabolic syndrome is increasingly common, and up to one-third of U.S. adults have it. If you have metabolic syndrome or any of its components, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.
People who have 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 — that is, carrying more of your weight around your hips and having a narrower waist — doesn't increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease and other complications of metabolic syndrome.
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.
If you know you have at least one component of metabolic syndrome, ask your doctor whether you need testing for other components of the syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is closely linked to 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.
The following factors increase your chances of having metabolic syndrome:
Having metabolic syndrome can increase your risk of developing:
A lifelong commitment to a healthy lifestyle may prevent the conditions that cause metabolic syndrome. A healthy lifestyle includes:
The National Institutes of Health guidelines define metabolic syndrome as having three or more of the following traits, including traits for which you may be taking medication to control:
If aggressive lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise aren't enough, your doctor might suggest medications to help control your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
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:
You're likely to start by seeing your primary care provider. He or she may then refer you to a doctor who specializes in diabetes and other endocrine disorders (endocrinologist) or one who specializes in heart disease (cardiologist).
When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as fasting for a specific test. Make a list of:
Take a family member or friend with you if possible, to help you remember the information you're given.
For metabolic syndrome, basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask about your diet, exercise and other lifestyle habits.