Overview

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels — that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Having just one of these conditions doesn't mean you have metabolic syndrome. However, any of these conditions increase your risk of serious disease. Having more than one of these might increase your risk even more.

If you have metabolic syndrome or any of its components, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.

Symptoms

Most of the disorders associated with metabolic syndrome have no symptoms, although a large waist circumference is a visible sign. If your blood sugar is very high, you might have signs and symptoms of diabetes — including increased thirst and urination, fatigue, and blurred vision.

When to see a doctor

If you know you have at least one component of metabolic syndrome, ask your doctor whether you need testing for other components of the syndrome.

Causes

Metabolic syndrome is closely linked to overweight or obesity and inactivity.

It's also linked to a condition called insulin resistance. Normally, your digestive system breaks down the foods you eat into sugar (glucose). Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that helps sugar enter your cells to be used as fuel.

In people with insulin resistance, cells don't respond normally to insulin, and glucose can't enter the cells as easily. As a result, glucose levels in your blood rise despite your body's attempt to control the glucose by churning out more and more insulin.

Risk factors

The following factors increase your chances of having metabolic syndrome:

  • Age. Your risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age.
  • Race. In the United States, Mexican-Americans appear to be at the greatest risk of developing metabolic syndrome.
  • Obesity. Carrying too much weight, especially in your abdomen, increases your risk of metabolic syndrome.
  • Diabetes. You're more likely to have metabolic syndrome if you had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes.
  • Other diseases. Your risk of metabolic syndrome is higher if you've ever had cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or polycystic ovary syndrome.

Complications

Having metabolic syndrome can increase your risk of developing:

  • Diabetes. If you don't make lifestyle changes to control your excess weight, which can lead to insulin resistance, your glucose levels will continue to increase. You then might develop diabetes.
  • Cardiovascular disease. High cholesterol and high blood pressure can contribute to the buildup of plaques in your arteries. These plaques can narrow and harden your arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
Aug. 09, 2017
References
  1. Metabolic syndrome. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/ms. Accessed Jan. 18, 2016.
  2. Meigs JB. The metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance syndrome or syndrome X). http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 18, 2016.
  3. O'Neill S, et al. Metabolic syndrome: A closer look at the epidemic and its associated pathologies. Obesity Reviews. 2015;16:1.