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person holding belly; metabolic syndrome and diabetes

Metabolic Syndrome: What It Is and What You Can Do

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of metabolic health conditions that can greatly increase your risk of heart disease and stroke when combined. Having just one of these conditions doesn’t mean that you have metabolic syndrome, but it should act as a warning sign and encourage you to develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of the following health conditions: hypertension (high blood pressure), high blood sugar, excess weight around midsection, and abnormal cholesterol levels. You don’t need to have all four conditions in order to have metabolic syndrome—having just two can put you at increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

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Symptoms

Metabolic syndrome itself typically doesn’t present any symptoms. High blood sugar (diabetes) is often the first indication that a person could have the syndrome.

Common symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Fatigue
  • Increased hunger
  • Pain, tingling, or numbness in hands and feet
  • Slow-healing cuts and bruises

Early signs of high blood pressure include dull headaches, dizzy spells, or more nosebleeds than usual.

Causes

This condition is often a result of poor diet and inactivity, but it may also be a result of genetics and age. It is also linked to insulin resistance, which is where the body stops using the insulin it produces to convert sugar into energy.

If insulin resistance is not corrected through a healthy diet and exercise, it can lead to prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Complications of diabetes include damage to the eyes, heart, and kidneys.

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Risk factors

You may be at risk of developing metabolic syndrome if you:

  • Are aged 60 or older
  • Are Mexican-American
  • Are obese with excess weight around your midsection
  • Have a history of prediabetes, gestational diabetes, or a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Have other health conditions like cardiovascular disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

If you are at risk of developing metabolic syndrome, talk to your doctor about ways to adopt a healthy lifestyle and regularly monitor your blood sugar and blood pressure.

Prevention and treatment

The best way to prevent metabolic syndrome is to lead a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise and plenty of sleep, and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol use.

If you are diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, your doctor may prescribe you medications to help control your blood sugar, blood pressure, as well as other medications to decrease your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Metabolic syndrome affects 1 in 5 Americans, or about 23 percent of American adults. Don’t wait until it’s too late to address the health conditions that make up metabolic syndrome.