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Metabolic Syndrome Signals Serious Health Risk
"Metabolic syndrome, also referred to as Syndrome X, is an increasingly common condition," says Steffanie Campbell, MD, FACP, a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. "It's not a disease, per se, but rather a cluster of risk factors that together can increase your chance for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. Typically, you have to have at least three of the risk factors for your physician to diagnose the condition."
Dr. Campbell says the telltale risk factors for metabolic syndrome include:
- Too much weight around the mid-section or an "apple shape" body (waist measurement of > 40” for men and > 35” for women)
- High blood pressure (130/80 or higher) or being on medicine for high blood pressure
- High blood sugar (fasting glucose of 110 mg/dL or more) or being on medicine for high blood sugar
- High triglycerides (150 mg/dL or greater) or being on medicine for high triglycerides
- Low HDL cholesterol (< 40 mg/dL in men and <50 mg/dL in women) or being on medicine for low HDL
“Clinical observations, trials, and various explanatory models have been used to link these five risk factors,” says Dr. Campbell. “Some research has suggested that insulin resistance may be an underlying factor. Insulin resistance is the inability of certain organs to respond properly to insulin, the hormone that helps regulate blood sugar. Also, metabolic syndrome has been linked to stroke and kidney disease.”
The clustering of these five factors has become an area of intense research due to the prevalence of heart disease and the rapidly increasing prevalence of diabetes in the American population.
If you have three of these five risk factors, you may be at risk for both heart disease and diabetes. Unfortunately, people with four or all five of these risk factors are at a substantially higher risk for the diseases.
Other risk factors may include:
- Smoking or using tobacco
- Having a family history of metabolic syndrome
- Lack of physical activity
- Obesity or being overweight
- Insulin resistance
- Being of Hispanic or Asian descent
Prevention and Treatment
To help prevent metabolic syndrome, Dr. Campbell says to learn your "numbers" (total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure) and work with your doctor to monitor and improve them.
"It's possible your doctor will put you on medication, but the good news is that you have control over the fate of your health. Eating right, exercising, losing extra weight, and not smoking can have a positive impact on metabolic syndrome," she says.
Treatment for the syndrome focuses on lowering the risk factors. “We haven’t found any ‘shortcuts’ when treating metabolic syndrome,” says Dr. Campbell. “Regular exercise and a healthy, low-fat, balanced diet are the only things that can help reduce all five risk factors at once. Drugs that lower cholesterol and control blood pressure and blood sugar can play pivotal roles, but lifestyle changes remain the foundation of targeted therapy.”
Regardless of the treatment, all the risk factors need to be monitored regularly to reduce your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. Consult your personal physician if you suspect you may have three or more of these risk factors.