What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Over 34 percent of adults in the United States have metabolic syndrome, according to the American Heart Association. It has become increasingly common globally as well. Learn about metabolic syndrome and which risk factors can cause it.

What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions that increase a person's risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other health problems. These conditions include:

  • High blood glucose (blood sugar) – 100 mg/dL (or more, or if you're taking medicine for high blood glucose)
  • Low levels of HDL or good cholesterol in the blood
    •  Men – less than 40 mg/dL
    • Women – less than 50 mg/dL
  • High levels of triglycerides in the blood – 150 mg/dL (or more or if you're taking medicine for high triglycerides)
  • Large waist circumference or having an "apple-shaped" body
    •  Men – greater than 40 inches 
    • Women – greater than 35 inches
  • High blood pressure – – 130/85 mm Hg or more (or if you're taking medicine for high blood pressure)

Although each of these conditions can increase a person's risk for cardiovascular disease, the chance of developing metabolic syndrome increases when a person has three or more of these risk factors.

Risk Factors

Metabolic syndrome is a serious condition that puts people at higher risk of life-threatening complications like atherosclerosis. Although some people are more prone to developing metabolic syndrome, others develop it due to poor lifestyle choices and other contributing circumstances.

The following factors increase a person's likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome:

  • Obesity / Overweight - excessive fat in and around the stomach is a potential cause of metabolic syndrome
  • Insulin resistance - occurs when the body can't use insulin efficiently. Some people are genetically predisposed to insulin resistance
  • Race and gender - black men are less likely than white men to have metabolic syndrome, yet black women have a higher rate than white women
  • Age - the risk of developing metabolic syndrome increases with age

Prevention and Treatment 

Here's what you can do today to treat and reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome:

  • Subscribe to a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, skinless poultry, fish, nuts, low-fat or fat-free products, lean meats and vegetable protein. Limit your intake of processed food, saturated and trans fats, red meat, sodium and added sugars.
  • Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week.
  • Learn your recommended calorie intake and monitor the number of food calories you're consuming and how many calories you're burning off to reach your weight-loss goals and help keep it off for a lifetime.
If you think you have metabolic syndrome, consult with a primary care physician as a good first step to help point you in the right direction. Please do not delay care.


American Heart Association

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