Metabolic Syndrome

Your Care Explained > Conditions and Diagnoses : Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of factors that significantly raises the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

Although we don’t completely understand why, we do know that African American and Mexican American women are at higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, as are women with polycystic ovarian syndrome.

Causes of Metabolic Syndrome

Although the exact cause of metabolic syndrome hasn’t been identified, many researchers believe that it begins with insulin resistance. That’s because most people with metabolic syndrome are resistant to insulin—the hormone secreted by the pancreas that helps to transfer glucose from the blood into the body cells. As serum glucose levels rise in the blood, so does the risk of developing diabetes. For that reason, insulin resistance is often called “pre-diabetes.”

There is also a theory that hormone changes triggered by chronic stress lead to the development of abdominal obesity, insulin resistance and elevated blood lipids (triglycerides and cholesterol).

Risk Factors for Metabolic Syndrome

Factors most closely associated with metabolic syndrome are similar to those for heart disease and diabetes, including:

Diagnosis of Metabolic Syndrome

The diagnosis of metabolic syndrome is based on the presence of several of the following:

Treating Metabolic Syndrome

A program of weight loss and exercise provides the foundation of treatment for metabolic syndrome; together, diet and exercise improve risk factors more than diet alone. Weight loss also increases HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and decreases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. Losing even as little as 5 to 10% of total weight can lower blood pressure and increase sensitivity to insulin. It is also helpful to stop smoking and to reduce alcohol consumption.

Medical Treatments

There are a number of medications that can help lower blood pressure, improve insulin metabolism, lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol and/or increase weight loss. Your doctor may prescribe one or more, and it’s important to take them as prescribed while making lifestyle changes.

Weight-loss surgery, which either limits the stomach’s capacity to hold food or reduces the body’s ability to metabolize food, is reserved for people for whom diet, exercise and medication have failed.

Nutrition and Prevention

Reference these links for information on how to prevent heart disease and how to live a healthy lifestyle.

Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011

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