What is Metabolic Syndrome? Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

    • October 1, 2019

    What is Metabolic Syndrome? Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatment

    Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of disorders which increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Patients who have these conditions together face greater odds of developing future cardiovascular disease than any single factor alone. Nearly a quarter of the adult population is living with metabolic syndrome – a serious concern when considering the life-threatening complications with which it’s associated. [1]

    Moreover, the number of individuals with metabolic syndrome increases with age, making it a particular concern for adults in their middle ages and older. More than 40% of people in their 60s and 70s have the condition, though age isn’t the only factor correlated with increased risk. [2]

    To help you better understand your risk and develop an effective prevention plan, this guide examines the causes and complications of metabolic syndrome. We’ll also explore treatments for individuals who have already been diagnosed, thereby helping to prevent life-threatening cardiovascular events.

    How Is Metabolic Syndrome Diagnosed?

    The cluster of conditions comprising metabolic syndrome include obesity, high blood pressure, and a trend toward insulin resistance, among others.

    Clinical Diagnosis of Metabolic Syndrome
    A clinical diagnosis of the condition is given when a patient exhibits three or more of the following criteria:

    • Fasting glucose of 100 mg/dL or greater
    • Systolic blood pressure of 130 mm HG or greater; or, diastolic blood pressure of 85 mm HG or greater (also the criteria for hypertension stage 1)
    • HDL cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL for men or 50 mg/dL for women
    • Triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or greater
    • Abdominal obesity, defined as a waist circumference of 40 inches or more for men, or 35 inches or more for women [3]

    Having a single one of these conditions doesn’t mean you have metabolic syndrome; likewise, it’s also possible to have metabolic syndrome without exhibiting all of the above signs. For example, some patients who do not meet BMI criteria for obesity have metabolic syndrome. Ultimately, having any one of these conditions can increase the risk of serious disease, and having more than one likely increases risk even more.

    Causes of Metabolic Syndrome

    The primary underlying causes of metabolic syndrome are being overweight or obese and leading a sedentary life. In addition to weight and physical inactivity, aging also contributes to the disorder. Genetic factors, such as ethnicity and family history, may also play a role. [4] Thus, while some of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome are controllable, others are not.

    One other important, and oftentimes controllable, factor for the condition is insulin resistance. Insulin sensitivity is one of the most important markers of overall health. The hormone insulin regulates blood sugar levels; thus, when the body fails to respond to insulin as it should, sugar builds up in the blood.

    Insulin resistance typically precedes diabetes and metabolic syndrome but often does not exhibit any symptoms. High glycemic index foods, including carbohydrates and especially processed varieties, may contribute to insulin resistance. [5]

    Additional Risk Factors

    The causes behind metabolic syndrome listed above tend to act together. Beyond these underlying causes, however, there are also some shared characteristics researchers have observed among many patients with metabolic syndrome: excessive blood clotting and constant and low-grade inflammation.

    It is presently unclear whether these conditions play a role in the disease’s development or whether they worsen it. Additionally, researchers are also studying other factors which may contribute to metabolic syndrome, including:

    Polycystic ovarian syndrome
    Fatty liver
    Sleep-related breathing issues, including sleep apnea [6]
    Additionally, a family or personal history of diabetes faces an increased risk for diabetes. Women are also more likely to develop the condition compared to men, as are Mexican Americans compared to Caucasians and African Americans. [7]

    With these causes and risk factors in mind, let’s explore some of the reasons why preventing and controlling metabolic syndrome is so important.