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. The term “metabolic” refers to the biochemical processes involved in the body’s normal functioning. Risk factors are traits, conditions, or habits that increase your chance of developing a disease.
The following factors increase your chances of having metabolic syndrome:
- Age. Your risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age.
- Ethnicity. In the United States, Hispanics — especially Hispanic women — appear to be at the greatest risk of developing metabolic syndrome. The reasons for this are not entirely clear. Some racial and ethnic groups in the United States are at higher risk for metabolic syndrome than others. Mexican Americans have the highest rate of metabolic syndrome, followed by whites and blacks.
Other groups at increased risk for metabolic syndrome include:
- People who have a personal history of diabetes
- People who have a sibling or parent who has diabetes
- Women when compared with men
- Women who have a personal history of polycystic ovarian syndrome (a tendency to develop cysts on the ovaries)
- 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 nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome or sleep apnea.
Symptoms of metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome may be diagnosed if you have 3 or more of the following:
- Being very overweight or having too much fat around your waist
- High triglyceride levels (fat in the blood) and low levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) in your blood, which can lead to atherosclerosis (where arteries become clogged with fatty substances such as cholesterol)
- High blood pressure that’s consistently 140/90mmHg or higher
- An inability to control blood sugar levels (insulin resistance)
Causes- Metabolic Syndrome
You can’t control other factors that may play a role in causing metabolic syndrome, such as growing older. Your risk for metabolic syndrome increases with age.
You also can’t control genetics (ethnicity and family history), which may play a role in causing the condition. For example, genetics can increase your risk for insulin resistance, which can lead to metabolic syndrome.
Researchers continue to study conditions that may play a role in metabolic syndrome, such as:
- A fatty liver (excess triglycerides and other fats in the liver)
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (a tendency to develop cysts on the ovaries)
- Breathing problems during sleep (such as sleep apnea)
Your doctor will diagnose metabolic syndrome based on the results of a physical exam and blood tests. You must have at least three of the five metabolic risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
Heart-healthy lifestyle changes are the first line of treatment for metabolic syndrome. If heart-healthy lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may prescribe medicines. Medicines are used to treat and control risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and high blood sugar.
Goals of Treatment
The major goal of treating metabolic syndrome is to reduce the risk of ischemic heart disease. Treatment is directed first at lowering LDL cholesterol and high blood pressure and managing diabetes (if these conditions are present).
The second goal of treatment is to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes, if it hasn’t already developed. Long-term complications of diabetes often include heart and kidney disease, vision loss, and foot or leg amputation. If diabetes is present, the goal of treatment is to reduce your risk for heart disease by controlling all of your risk factors.
Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control your risk factors for metabolic syndrome. For example, you may need statin medications to control or lower your cholesterol. By lowering your blood cholesterol level, you can decrease your chance of having a heart attack or stroke. Doctors usually prescribe statins for people who have:
- Heart disease or had a prior stroke
- High LDL cholesterol levels
Dr. Saima Salahuddin in our clinic in Dubai may discuss beginning statin treatment with those who have an elevated risk for developing heart disease or having a stroke.
Your doctor also may prescribe other medications to:
- Decrease your chance of having a heart attack.
- Lower your blood pressure.
- Prevent blood clots, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
- Reduce your heart’s workload and relieve symptoms of coronary heart disease.
Take all medicines regularly, as your doctor prescribes. Don’t change the amount of your medicine or skip a dose unless your doctor tells you to. You should still follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, even if you take medicines to treat your risk factors for metabolic syndrome.
A lifelong commitment to a healthy lifestyle may prevent the conditions that cause metabolic syndrome. A healthy lifestyle includes:
- Getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity most days
- Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, lean protein and whole grains
- Limiting saturated fat and salt in your diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Not smoking
- NIH – National Lung, Heart and Blood Institute
- American Heart Association
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