Metabolic Syndrome: The Risk for Chronic Disease

Metabolic syndrome is a condition that puts you at high risk for serious long-term (chronic) health problems. It’s not a disease. You don’t get symptoms. Instead, metabolic syndrome is a diagnosis made when you have 3 or more risk factors from a set of 5. But you can take action to control these factors. In doing so, you can help lower your risk for chronic health problems. You will improve your health.

Healthcare provider talking to man in exam room.

What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a combination of “metabolic risk factors.” Having just one factor raises your chances of having a health problem. Each factor you add on raises your chances even more. Each risk factor is something that your healthcare provider can measure. The factors are:

  • Weight, especially around the waist (abdominal obesity)

  • Level of fats (triglycerides) in the blood

  • Level of HDL (good) cholesterol

  • Blood pressure

  • Blood sugar level

Talk with your healthcare provider about your numbers and what they mean for you.

Metabolic syndrome and diseases linked to it

Studies show that metabolic syndrome is tied to many chronic health problems. These include heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. A person with metabolic syndrome is:

  • 5 times more likely to have type 2 diabetes

  • 2 times more likely to have heart disease

  • 2 to 4 times more likely to have a stroke

  • 3 to 4 times more likely to have a heart attack

  • 5 times more likely to have mild problems with thinking (cognitive impairment)

And risk of dying from one of these conditions is twice as high as for someone who doesn't have metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome and heart disease

If you have metabolic syndrome, it’s more likely that arteries that supply blood to your heart have become narrowed or blocked by fatty deposits (plaque). This lowers the amount of blood and oxygen that reaches the heart. This leads to chest pain (angina) or heart attack.

Metabolic syndrome and diabetes

One sign of metabolic syndrome is a higher level of sugar (glucose) in your blood. This can also be a sign of prediabetes. When you have prediabetes, your risk of developing full-blown diabetes goes up. Diabetes is a condition in which your body can't make enough insulin. Or your body can't use insulin normally. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder.

Metabolic syndrome and stroke

The same risk factors of metabolic syndrome that increase your risk for heart disease also increase your risk for an ischemic stroke. An ischemic stroke occurs when arteries that supply blood to your brain become narrowed or blocked. Long-term, metabolic syndrome also increases your risk of developing mild cognitive impairment,

How is metabolic syndrome treated?

Because metabolic syndrome increases the risk of having more serious long-term (chronic) conditions, getting treatment is important. Treatment of metabolic syndrome focuses on managing the risk factors. Most often, this includes making lifestyle changes. These changes center on 3 major areas:

  • Losing weight. Every pound (kilogram) you lose is good for your body and your heart. Losing weight will help improve your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lower your blood pressure, and improve your blood sugar level.

  • Eating more healthy foods. Making smart food choices helps you get your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar to healthier levels. Healthy choices also help you control your weight.

  • Being more active. Being active is one of the best changes you can make for your heart. When combined with eating right, activity helps you lose extra pounds (kilograms). Even if you don’t have weight to lose, being active helps to lower blood sugar and raises HDL levels.

Your healthcare provider may also prescribe medicines to help manage cholesterol, blood pressure, or blood sugar. Medicines work best when used along with weight loss, healthier eating, and increased activity. If you are prescribed medicines, know what you are taking and take them as directed.

Taking action now can help lower your risk for any of the chronic conditions mentioned above. And you’ll be taking steps to improve your health. Take charge of your future by making changes to help protect your body and prevent serious problems.

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.