Fast food meals, sitting at a desk or in front of a computer for hours a day, spending hours in the car running the kids around, grabbing dinner on the run and collapsing at the end of the day. Sound like your life?

If so, you could be one of the millions of women who are at risk for developing the metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. A “syndrome” means that this is a collection of health risks, not a disease itself.

The National Cholesterol Education Program has defined five elements of the syndrome:

  • an “enlarged waist” – defined as waist measurement of at least 35.2” for women, 40” for men
  • high blood pressure - 130/85 or higher
  • low levels of good (HDL) cholesterol - less than 50 mg/dl for women and less than 40 mg/dl for men
  • elevated levels of blood fats (triglycerides) - 150 mg/dl or more
  • insulin resistance - blood glucose (sugar) level is higher than normal, or a fasting blood glucose of 110 mg/dl or more.

An individual with three or more of these five characteristics has the metabolic syndrome.

Experts in cardiovascular disease and diabetes haven’t figured out the cause of the metabolic syndrome yet. What they do know is that women with the metabolic syndrome have a three times higher risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke, compared with women who don’t have it, and they have a nine to 30 times greater risk of type 2 diabetes.

According to a study published in the Journal Circulation, the worst combination appears to be enlarged waist and high triglyceride levels – those women have almost five times the risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke compared to normal women.

Being overweight automatically puts a woman at risk for developing metabolic syndrome. But smoking, being post-menopausal, inactive and eating a high-carbohydrate diet also increases your chances of developing the syndrome, and certain ethnic groups such as Hispanics are at higher risk than Caucasians.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/14/2018.

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