What is metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is not a disease in itself. It is a cluster of risk factors: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, unhealthy cholesterol levels and belly fat.
Some people still refer to metabolic syndrome as 'syndrome X', however now even the usefulness of the term 'metabolic syndrome' is being questioned. An accurate diagnosis has not been universally agreed and there's evidence that a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome by doctors is no better at predicting cardiovascular (heart) risk than the normal methods.
Obviously, having any one of these risk factors isn't good, but when they're combined, they set the stage for serious problems. These risk factors double your risk of blood vessel and heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks and stroke. They increase your risk of diabetes by five times.
Metabolic syndrome is also becoming more common, but the good news is that it can be controlled, largely with changes to your lifestyle.
Risk factors of metabolic syndrome
There is no agreed UK diagnosis for metabolic syndrome. According to the American Heart Association and the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are five risk factors that make up metabolic syndrome.
Large waist size
For men: 40 inches or larger
For women: 35 inches or larger
1.7 mmol/l or higher
Using a triglyceride lowering medicine
Cholesterol: low good cholesterol(HDL)
For men: Less than 1.03 mmol/l
For women: Less than 1.3 mmol/l
Using a drug treatment for low HDL-cholesterol
High blood pressure
Having blood pressure of 130 mmHg systolic
greater than 85 mm Hg diastolic
Using a high blood pressure medicine
Blood sugar: high fasting glucose level
5.5 mmol/l or higher
Taking a medicine to lower glucose levels
To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you would have at least three of these risk factors.
What causes metabolic syndrome?
Experts aren't sure why metabolic syndrome develops. It's a collection of risk factors, not a single disease. So it probably has many different causes. Some risk factors are:
- Insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body use glucose -- a simple sugar made from the food you eat -- as energy. In people with insulin resistance, the insulin doesn't work as well so your body keeps making more and more of it to cope with the rising level of glucose. Eventually, this can lead to diabetes. Insulin resistance is closely connected to having excess weight in the abdomen.
- Obesity -- especially abdominal obesity. Experts say that metabolic syndrome is becoming more common because of rising obesity rates. In addition, having extra fat in the stomach, as opposed to elsewhere in the body, seems to increase your risk.
- Unhealthy lifestyle. Eating a diet high in fats and not getting enough physical activity can play a role.
- Hormonal imbalance. Hormones may play a role. For instance, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) -- a condition that affects fertility -- is related to hormonal imbalance and metabolic syndrome.
If you've just been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you may be anxious. But think of it as a wake-up call. It's time to get serious about improving your health. Making simple changes to your habits now can prevent serious illness in the future.