Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. These conditions include increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. Having just one of these conditions doesn’t mean you have metabolic syndrome. But it does mean you have a greater risk of serious disease. And if you develop more of these conditions, your risk of complications, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, rises even higher. Metabolic syndrome is increasingly common, and up to one-third of U.S. adults have it. If you have metabolic syndrome or any of its components, aggressive lifestyle changes can delay or even prevent the development of serious health problems.
Metabolic Syndrome Epidemiology
The prevalence of metabolic syndrome varies by definition used and population studied. Based on data from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988 to 1994), the prevalence of metabolic syndrome (using the NCEP–ATP III criteria) varies from 16 percent of black men to 37 percent of Hispanic women. The prevalence of metabolic syndrome increases with age and increasing body weight. Because the U.S. population is aging, and because more than one half of adults are overweight or obese, it has been estimated that metabolic syndrome soon will overtake cigarette smoking as the primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Metabolic syndrome is an even stronger predictor of risk for type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Causes of Metabolic Syndrome
Experts aren’t sure why metabolic syndrome develops. It’s a collection of risk factors, not a single disease. So it probably has many causes. Some risk factors are:
Insulin resistance: Insulin is a hormone that helps your body use glucose a simple sugar made from the food you eat as energy. In people with insulin resistance, the insulin doesn’t work as well, so your body keeps making more and more of it to cope with the rising level of glucose. Eventually, this can lead to diabetes. Insulin resistance is closely connected to having excess weight in the belly.
Obesity, especially abdominal obesity. Experts say that metabolic syndrome is becoming more common because of rising obesity rates. In addition, having extra fat in the belly as opposed to elsewhere in the body seems to increase your risk.
Unhealthy lifestyle: Eating a diet high in unhealthy processed foods and not getting enough physical activity can play a role.
Hormonal imbalance: Hormones may play a role. For instance, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that affects fertility, is related to hormonal imbalance and metabolic syndrome.
If you’ve just been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you might be anxious. But think of it as a wake-up call. It’s time to get serious about improving your health. Making simple changes to your habits now can prevent serious illness in the future.
One of the main features of metabolic syndrome is that it is typically asymptomatic. That’s important for you to know because the individual components of the syndrome can worsen without you realizing it.
However, several symptoms can be associated with the condition; you may or may not experience them if you have metabolic syndrome. The most noticeable sign of metabolic syndrome is weight gain, and you could have the condition if you are overweight and/or have a large waist circumference.
Clinical symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome include:
- Signs commonly associated with diabetes, such as increased thirst and frequent urination
- Difficulty sleeping
The symptoms you can experience when you have metabolic syndrome are due to the effects of each individual component of the syndrome. Hypertension can cause dizziness, fatigue, and headaches. High blood sugar can cause sleep issues, fatigue, dizziness, thirst, dry mouth, and frequent urination.
The complications that may result from metabolic syndrome are frequently serious and long-term (chronic). They include:
- Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis)
- Heart attack
- Kidney disease
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Peripheral artery disease
- Cardiovascular disease
If diabetes develops, you may be at risk for additional health complications, including:
- Eye damage (retinopathy)
- Nerve damage (neuropathy)
- Kidney disease
- Amputation of limbs
The most important risk factors for metabolic syndrome are:
- Abdominal obesity (a large waistline)
- An inactive lifestyle
- Insulin resistance
There are certain groups of people who have an increased risk of metabolic syndrome:
- Some racial and ethnic groups. Mexican Americans have the highest rate of metabolic syndrome, followed by whites and blacks.
- People who have diabetes
- People who have a sibling or parent who has diabetes
- Women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- People who take medicines that cause weight gain or changes in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels
How to diagnose metabolic syndrome?
To make a quick and accurate diagnosis, a doctor will perform tests as well as inquire about any symptoms and previous medical history. Typical tests include:
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): This test measures the electrical activity in the heart via electrodes attached to the skin. Abnormal or irregular impulses may indicate poor heart function due to a lack of oxygen to the heart. Certain electrical signal patterns may also help to indicate the location of a blockage.
- Blood tests: Certain enzymes may be detectable in the blood if cell death results in damage to the heart tissue. A positive result indicates a heart attack.
- Cardiac perfusion scan: This scan can show if the heart is getting enough blood and can check areas of damage after a heart attack.
Information from these tests, as well as the actual signs and symptoms, are used to help diagnose acute coronary syndrome and determine whether it should be classified as a heart attack or unstable angina.
Doctors may use other tests to determine if additional treatment is needed or if there are additional heart problems present. Some doctors may order a person to wear a Holter monitor, which records the heart’s electrical activity for 24 hours. The monitor helps to detect whether the person has abnormal heart rhythms or periods of inadequate blood supply that may not have any symptoms.
Additional tests may be ordered to rule out other causes as well as help to treat the person better.
Metabolic Syndrome Treatment
Metabolic syndrome poses a risk to the cardiovascular system predominantly. Therefore, the treatment for metabolic syndrome pays attention to a heart-healthy lifestyle. A lifelong commitment to a healthy lifestyle may prevent the conditions that cause metabolic syndrome. Prevention and treatment strategies are almost similar. Following are the factors to consider for a healthy lifestyle.
Maintaining a healthy weight
Using your body mass index, aka BMI, you should be aware of your desired weight. Weight management plays a crucial role in keeping metabolic syndrome away. To maintain weight, you should take extra care of your meals and physical activity.
Choosing appropriate meals
Your focus should be on reducing the amount of saturated and trans fats you eat. Instead, pick whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean meat. Choose low-fat and low-calorie food. Break your meal into smaller portions. Despite disease status, it is always advisable to drink plenty of water instead of sugary drinks to stay adequately hydrated and maintain a healthier lifestyle in the long term.
Engaging in physical activity
Exercising regularly is an essential requirement to keep yourself healthy—the benefits of regular physical exertion range from increasing your self-esteem to reduce your risks of contracting chronic diseases.
Depending on age group, requirements and possibilities vary. Younger adults can engage in moderate or vigorously intense physical activity. Adopting exercise as a routine daily activity from childhood, your children lead a healthy lifestyle without much of a hassle. Older adults and pregnant women, and people with special needs should discuss their physical activity with their health care provider. They should be aware of the amount and types of physical activity they should do.
Tips for exercise
- As a baseline, adults should target 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per week. If it’s vigorous intensity, a minimum of 75 minutes is preferred per week.
- Try aerobics like walking, swimming and biking are simple and can be performed without any special equipment.
- Workout in segments if you cannot allocate a long time to complete your activity.
- Keep your schedule spread over the week instead of trying to complete it all in one day.
- At least twice a week, do strengthening exercises. Strengthening exercises may be a physical exertion without equipment like sit-ups and push-ups or using some exercise equipment like lifting weights.
- Do exercises in sets of 8-12 repetitions focusing on each of your muscle groups.
Relieve from stress
Stress can affect anyone at any time. It does not necessarily be bad, because sometimes stress would help us perform well or even save our life. However, prolonged stress could affect you mentally and physically, leading to various destructive outcomes.
You may experience stress routinely when it is related to regular activities like work, family commitments and responsibilities. Stress can affect you following an unexpected life event, like the demise of a partner, divorce or losing your job. Finally, traumatic stress is another type that results from the danger of getting hurt or killed. Events like war, natural disasters, accidents etc., can cause this type of stress. It is also known to cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Coping up with stress also differs between individuals. Prevention of stress depends solely on your hand on how you proactively make decisions on stress. Planning, prioritizing and organizing would help you to avoid stress. You can read more about tracking stress in our blog article.
If you are a smoker, now it is time to think about quit smoking. Smoking of any type is harmful to your health. Especially smoking is proven to cause blockage in your blood vessels and eventually cause cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart attack/myocardial infarction) and cerebrovascular disease (e.g. stroke).
Medications for metabolic syndrome
In many cases, lifestyle changes alone can counter metabolic syndrome, but sometimes prescription medications are needed. You and a healthcare provider can determine whether your lifestyle modifications are enough or if you need to take medication to manage your metabolic syndrome.
A healthcare provider may prescribe:
- Cholesterol-lowering medication: Statins help reduce triglyceride levels.
- Antihypertensives: Prescription medications that reduce elevated blood pressure include angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta-blockers, or diuretics.
- Diabetes medication: Oral diabetes medications such as Glucophage (metformin), GLP-1s or DPP-4s can lower blood sugar if dietary management is not effective.18
- Fiber supplements: The use of fiber might have an impact on metabolic syndrome, but it is not clear whether this approach is as effective as getting fiber in your diet.14
Check with a healthcare provider before you take dietary fiber supplements.
Preventing metabolic syndrome
You can prevent or reverse metabolic syndrome by making lifestyle changes, including:
- Losing weight
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels under control
- Stopping smoking
- Cutting down on alcohol
If necessary, a GP may prescribe medicine to help control your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Lifestyle Changes and Self Care
Adapting to healthy lifestyle changes if you’ve been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome can avoid or delay significant health problems. A healthy way of life includes:
Regular physical activity
Health experts recommend taking at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, such as brisk walking. However, one is not required to do that task all at once. Look for opportunities to increase the activity level whenever possible, such as walking rather than driving and using the stairs rather than an elevator.
Losing body weight can lower insulin resistance, blood pressure, and your risk of diabetes. Any weight loss is beneficial, and it’s essential to keep the weight loss progressing. If you’re having trouble losing weight and maintaining that off, consult a doctor about the options, including medications or weight-loss surgery.
Healthy eating plans, such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) and the Mediterranean diet, emphasise vegetables, fruits, whole grains with high fibre, and lean protein. Sugar-sweetened drinks, alcohol, salt, sugar, and fat, especially saturated and trans fat, are all suggested in healthy eating programmes.
Giving up smoking improves your overall health significantly. If you need assistance quitting, consult your doctor.
Stress reduction or management
Physical activity, meditation, yoga, and other activities can help people deal with stress and improve their overall mental and physical health.