Metabolic Syndrome

Overview

What is insulin resistance?

Your body changes most of the food you eat into glucose (a form of sugar). Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that allows glucose to enter all the cells of your body and be used as energy.

In some people, the body’s tissues stop responding to insulin. Doctors refer to this condition as insulin resistance. If you have insulin resistance, your body will make more and more insulin, but because your tissues don’t respond to it, your body can’t use glucose properly.

What is metabolic syndrome?

Insulin resistance often goes along with other health problems, such as diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure. These problems are all risk factors for heart disease. When a person has many of these problems at the same time, doctors commonly call it "metabolic syndrome." It is sometimes called "insulin resistance syndrome" or "syndrome X." Many people who have type 2 diabetes also have metabolic syndrome.

Causes & Risk Factors

What causes metabolic syndrome?

A number of factors can act together to cause metabolic syndrome. A person who takes in too many calories and too much saturated fat, and does not get enough physical activity may develop metabolic syndrome. Other causes include insulin resistance and a family history of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome.

Diagnosis & Tests

How is metabolic syndrome diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam and blood tests. He or she can diagnosis metabolic syndrome if at least 3 of the following are true:

The more of these risk factors you have, the higher your risk of heart disease.

  • You are overweight or obese, and you carry the weight around your middle. For men, this means a waist that measures greater than 40 inches around. For women, it means a waist that measures greater than 35 inches around.

  • You have higher than normal blood pressure (130/85 mm Hg or greater).

  • You have a higher than normal amount of sugar in your blood (a fasting blood sugar of 110 mg/dL or greater).

  • You have a higher than normal amount of fat in your blood (a triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or greater).

  • You have a lower than normal high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level (an HDL level less than 40 mg/dL). HDL cholesterol is the "good" cholesterol.

Treatment

What can I do to improve my health?

A healthy lifestyle can help prevent metabolic syndrome. This includes losing weight if you’re overweight, getting more physical activity and eating a healthy diet. Also, if you smoke, you should stop.

If you already have metabolic syndrome, making these healthy lifestyle choices can help reduce your risk of heart disease and other health problems. If lifestyle changes alone can’t control your risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help.

Maintain a healthy weight

Your doctor can measure your body mass index (BMI) to determine a healthy weight for your height. He or she can help you make a plan to lose weight if you’re overweight, and to maintain your weight through a healthy diet and regular physical activity.

Get more physical activity

Not being active is one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease. It’s important to get some kind of exercise on a regular basis. Start by talking with your family doctor, especially if you haven’t been active for a while. You may need to begin with some light exercise, such as walking. Then you can gradually increase how hard you exercise and for how long. A good goal for many people is to work up to exercising 4 to 6 times a week for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. A minimum of 120 minutes a week is best for good health. Your doctor can help you set a goal that’s right for you.

Eat a healthy diet

When combined with exercise, a healthy diet can help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol level and improve the way your body functions. Foods high in dietary fiber should be a regular part of your diet. You should eat several servings of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain bread every day. Also, limit the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium (salt) and added sugar in your diet.

Don’t smoke

If you smoke, your doctor can help you make a plan to stop and give you advice on how to avoid starting again. If you don’t smoke, don’t start!

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • I have type 2 diabetes. Is it possible I have metabolic syndrome?

  • I have metabolic syndrome. Should I be screened for diabetes?

  • Should I talk with a dietitian about changing the way I eat?

  • What kind of exercise is best for me?

  • Are there any medicines I should take for metabolic syndrome?

  • My mother has diabetes. Am I at higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome?

Citations

  • Metabolic Syndrome: Time for Action by Darwin Deen, M.D., M.S.( 06/15/04, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20040615/2875.html)