What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a collection of heart disease risk factors that increase your chance of developing heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. The condition is also known by other names including Syndrome X, insulin resistance syndrome, and dysmetabolic syndrome. According to a national health survey, more than 1 in 5 Americans has metabolic syndrome. The number of people with metabolic syndrome increases with age, affecting more than 40% of people in their 60s and 70s.

Who typically has metabolic syndrome?

  • People with central obesity (increased fat in the abdomen/waist).
  • People with diabetes mellitus or a strong family history of diabetes mellitus.
  • People with other clinical features of "insulin resistance" including skin changes of acanthosis nigricans ("darkened skin" on the back of the neck or underarms) or skin tags (usually on the neck).
  • Certain ethnic backgrounds are at a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

As you grow older, your risk of developing metabolic syndrome increases.

What causes metabolic syndrome?

The exact cause of metabolic syndrome is not known. Many features of the metabolic syndrome are associated with "insulin resistance." Insulin resistance means that the body does not use insulin efficiently to lower glucose and triglyceride levels. A combination of genetic and lifestyle factors may result in insulin resistance. Lifestyle factors include dietary habits, activity and perhaps interrupted sleep patterns (such as sleep apnea).

What are the symptoms of metabolic syndrome?

Usually, there are no immediate physical symptoms. Medical problems associated with the metabolic syndrome develop over time. If you are unsure if you have metabolic syndrome, see your healthcare provider. He or she will be able to make the diagnosis by obtaining the necessary tests, including blood pressure, lipid profile (triglycerides and HDL) and blood glucose.

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