Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride 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 you have the condition or any of its components, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.
What are the Symptoms?
Most of the associated disorders have no symptoms, although a large waist circumference is a visible sign. If your blood sugar is very high, you might have signs and symptoms of diabetes — including increased thirst and urination, fatigue, and blurred vision.
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 (glucose). 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, glucose levels in your blood rise despite your body’s attempt to control the glucose by churning out more and more insulin.
The following factors increase your chances of having metabolic syndrome:
- Age – Your risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age.
- Race – In the United States, Mexican-Americans appear to be at the greatest risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
- Obesity – Carrying too much weight, especially in your abdomen, increases your risk of metabolic syndrome.
- Diabetes – You’re more likely to have metabolic syndrome if you had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes.
- Other diseases – Your risk of metabolic syndrome is higher if you’ve ever had cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or polycystic ovary syndrome.
Complications of the disease
Having metabolic syndrome can increase your risk of developing diabetes. If you don’t make lifestyle changes to control your excess weight, which can lead to insulin resistance, your glucose levels will continue to increase. You then might develop diabetes.
Cardiovascular disease is also a Complication of metabolic syndrome. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can contribute to the buildup of plaques in your arteries. These plaques can narrow and harden your arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
If aggressive lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise aren’t enough, your doctor might suggest medications to help control your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood glucose.
A lifelong commitment to a healthy lifestyle is usually required to prevent serious health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease. This includes:
- Being physically active : Doctors recommend getting 30 or more minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, daily. Look for ways to increase activity, such as walking instead of driving and using stairs instead of elevators when possible.
- Losing weight : Weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce insulin resistance and blood pressure and decrease your risk of diabetes.
- Eating healthfully : The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet and the Mediterranean diet, like many healthy-eating plans, limit unhealthy fats and emphasize fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains. Both dietary approaches have been found to offer important health benefits — in addition to weight loss — for people who have components of metabolic syndrome.
- Stopping smoking : Smoking cigarettes worsens the health consequences of metabolic syndrome. Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting.
- Managing stress : Physical activity, meditation, yoga and other programs can help you handle stress and improve your emotional and physical health.
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