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Understanding How Metabolic Syndrome Affects Your Health

Updated on December 26, 2011

Risk Factors for Metabolic Syndrome

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

The metabolic syndrome as described by the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute is the name given to multiple risk factors linked to overweight and obesity. The syndrome is not a disease or condition of its own, but rather a cluster of conditions that, when present together, indicate a person has twice the risk of developing heart and circulatory system problems and ten times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The metabolic syndrome is sometimes also be referred to as syndrome X.

This syndrome does not affect your health -- it IS your health. The term "syndrome" refers to a set of signs and symptoms that when present together suggest a certain health outcome. Syndrome X, or the metabolic syndrome, is just like that. When a health care provider recognizes someone has metabolic syndrome, it triggers a recognition of potential health issues that may be occurring already in the body, or may do so in the future.

The Role of Insulin

Where Did Metabolic Syndrome Come From?

Why are we just hearing about syndrome X -- metabolic syndrome -- now? First of all, it was only two decades ago that medical and scientific researchers identified the association between the various health problems and the increased risk for other chronic conditions.

It is likely that the presence of at least 3 of the 5 health problems that make up the syndrome have always been indicators of the increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, it was just that no one had put the pieces of the puzzle together before the 1990s.

What Is the Significance of a Metabolic Syndrome Diagnosis?

For the physician, the determination that you have metabolic syndrome indicates the potential need for further testing.

For instance, your health care provider may have learned you have an elevated blood sugar level during routine yearly blood work. Because it is known that more than 85 percent of people with type 2 diabetes also have metabolic syndrome, your physician may want to order tests to better examine your body's ability to utilize glucose (sugar).

In an article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, author Scott M. Grundy likens the presence of one or more of the attributes of metabolic syndrome as the tip of the iceberg. Just like an iceberg, the presence of these attributes could well point to further health problems yet unexplored.

The metabolic syndrome was originally intentioned to be a theoretical term, aiding health care providers to be alert to look further into the health conditions of their patients who have even one attribute of the syndrome.

Risk Factors of Metabolic Syndrome

Attributes of Metabolic Syndrome
Obesity/Large Waist Size
40 inches or larger
35 inches or larger
High Blood Pressure/Hypertension
B/P greater than 130/85 or taking blood pressure medication
B/P greater than 130/85 or taking blood pressure medication
High Triglycerides Level
150mg/dl or higher or taking cholesterol reducing medication
150mg/dl or higher or taking cholesterol reducing medication
Low HDL Cholesterol Level
40mg/dl or lower or taking a cholesterol reducing medication
50mg/dl or lower or taking a cholesterol reducing medication
Fasting Blood Glucose Level
100 mg/dl or higher
100 mg/dl or higher
Information taken from American Heart Association

Risk Factors of Metabolic Syndrome

In order to have the metabolic syndrome, you need to have at least three of the five associated risk factors. The more of these five risk factors you have, the greater your risk is for developing diabetes, coronary artery disease or stroke.

The chance of developing metabolic syndrome is closely linked to overweight, obesity, and lack of physical activity. An estimated 47 million Americans have metabolic syndrome and that number is likely to increase with the current rates of overweight and obesity.

Lifestyle changes that include eating a nutritious diet with the right amount of calories for weight maintenance--or weight loss if overweight or obese--and the inclusion of regular physical activity--30 or more minutes daily on most days--may help prevent or delay the onset of metabolic syndrome and aid in reducing the risk factors associated with it if you presently have the syndrome.


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