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Metabolic syndrome

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 abdominal fat )' 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 (blood vessel and heart disease) risk than the usual 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. People with metabolic syndrome will usually have the following: 

  • A waist measurement of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women
  • High levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL 'good' cholesterol in the blood
  • High blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance, or being unable to control blood sugar levels
  • An increased risk of blood clots
  • A higher risk of inflammation of body tissue


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 around the abdomen, 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.

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.

How do you treat metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome - a group of risk factors that include abdominal fat, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and unhealthy cholesterol levels - has, perhaps surprisingly, no special treatment regime.

Instead, treatment is focused on simply tackling each risk factor. The goal is to cut your odds of blood vessel and heart disease, as well as diabetes.

In most cases, the best treatment for metabolic syndrome rests with you. Changes to your behaviour, such as eating more healthily and getting more exercise, are the first things your GP will suggest.

Unhealthy habits may have led you into this trouble. But by changing your ways, you may be able to completely negate your risk factors.

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