What is Metabolic Syndrome? | Get Healthy Stay Healthy

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Published on Oct 10, 2020
Authored by Pfizer Medical Team
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Metabolic syndrome, also known as Syndrome X, is a cluster of risk factors that dramatically increases an individual’s risk of heart disease and diabetes.1 Any one of these factors can increase the risk of health problems; however, when these conditions occur together, the risk is significantly higher.2 Early diagnosis of metabolic syndrome can lead to interventions to delay or prevent heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.2

Besides Abdominal Obesity, There Are No Obvious Signs

Excess weight around the abdomen is linked to insulin resistance. Insulin acts as a key for the body's cells to be fed sugar (or glucose) for energy. When a person has insulin resistance, the cells stop responding normally to insulin—leading to consistently high blood sugar and a snowball effect on cholesterol with damage to blood vessels. Your doctor can help identify these not-so-obvious signs through a blood test.

A person must have at least three of the following risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome:2

  • Abdominal obesity. Defined as a waist measurement of 88 cm or more for women and 102 cm or more for men in people of Caucasian background. The measurements are smaller in people of Asian, European, Middle Eastern and Central American background. For women, a waist measurement of 80 cm of more and 90 to 94 cm or more in men.
  • High triglyceride level. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in blood. A triglyceride level of 1.7mmol/L or more is considered high.
  • Low HDL cholesterol level. Sometimes called “good” cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol helps eliminate troublesome cholesterol from your body. An HDL cholesterol level of less than 1.3mmol/L for women and less than 1mmol/L for men is considered low.
  • High blood pressure. A blood pressure reading of 130/85 mmHg or greater.
  • High blood sugar. A fasting plasma glucose level of 5.6mmol/L or more.

Some People are at Greater Risk of Metabolic Syndrome

Anyone can develop metabolic syndrome, including children and teenagers2. However, some people are at increased risk. You may have a higher-than-average risk if you have:

  • A family history of heart disease or diabetes. Researchers have learned that metabolic syndrome can run in families. If anyone in your biological family has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or has died of heart disease, stroke, or diabetes, your risk of metabolic syndrome is elevated.1,2
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Women who have PCOS are two to four times more likely to have metabolic syndrome than women who do not have PCOS.1 Symptoms of PCOS include irregular periods, weight gain, excessive hair growth in unwanted places or loss of scalp hair. PCOS can also cause infertility or difficulty with conception.3
  • An inactive lifestyle. People who lead sedentary lives are four times more likely to develop metabolic syndrome than those who are active9.

None of these factors guarantees a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome. A person may have one or even all these risk factors and not develop metabolic syndrome, especially if they take steps to improve their overall health.

The Data Points to Serious Complications

Metabolic syndrome can lead to serious, even fatal, complications, including:

  • Cardiovascular disease. People with metabolic syndrome are two times more likely to develop heart and blood vessel disease than people who don’t have metabolic syndrome.2 Cardiovascular disease can lead to heart attacks, strokes, peripheral artery disease and heart failure.4
  • Type 2 diabetes. People with metabolic syndrome are three to five times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than those without the syndrome.2 Type 2 diabetes can cause serious conditions such as kidney failure, blindness, erectile dysfunction and nerve damage.5
  • Fatty Liver Disease. One of the most common liver diseases in the western world that can lead to scarring of the liver, the need for a liver transplant and even liver cancer.1

If You Have Risk Factors, The Time is Now to Act.

Because the health effects of metabolic syndrome can be serious, it’s best to be proactive, rather than wait for signs of poor health. Losing weight—even as little as 5% of your body weight—can decrease your risk of complications.2 Increasing physical activity can also help. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as walking, each day.2 If you smoke or vape, quit, or cut back; your healthcare provider can provide assistance and support.2

If you have risk factors and haven't had a health check in the last 12 months, schedule one with your doctor today.

Let us know if you plan to see the doctor for a health check in the poll down below (on mobile) or in the side bar (on desktop).

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