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What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic Syndrome Can Lead to Heart Disease If Not Addressed

By Nancy Larson

Updated July 22, 2011

(LifeWire) - Question: What is metabolic syndrome?

Answer: Metabolic syndrome is a collection of conditions that increases a person's risk for coronary artery disease (CAD), which can lead to heart attack or stroke. The syndrome also puts people at risk for diabetes, a disease marked by inability to properly convert glucose into energy. Anyone with three or more of the following factors is considered to have metabolic syndrome:

  • Excess abdominal fat, defined as a waist size of 35.2 inches in women or 40 inches in men.
  • Blood pressure of 130/85 or higher.
  • Blood levels of glucose (blood sugar) measuring 110 mg/dL or higher. (Many people with metabolic syndrome already have diabetes.)
  • Insulin resistance, which increases the chances of developing diabetes.
  • Triglycerides levels measuring 150 mg/dL or higher. (Triglycerides are fats composed of three fatty acid molecules and a glycerol molecule. They are the main form of fat in our food and are also produced in our bodies.)
  • Levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol below 40 mg/dL for men or below 50 mg/dL for women.

Over 50 million people in the United States have metabolic syndrome. They don't necessarily experience symptoms, other than those associated with the individual conditions listed above. A diagnosis can be made by testing blood for HDL, triglycerides and high glucose levels, taking your blood pressure and measuring abdominal fat.

Metabolic syndrome is treated by addressing the underlying conditions, most of which can be controlled through lifestyle changes. Fat around the waist, low HDL and elevated LDL, triglycerides and blood pressure can generally be improved through exercise, eating a good diet, quitting smoking and cutting back on alcohol.

Depression has been linked to metabolic syndrome as well. People who are depressed are more likely to eat poorly, be inactive, smoke or drink too much alcohol.

The metabolic syndrome is also known as "syndrome X" or "insulin resistance syndrome."


Bonnet, Fabrice, et al. "Depressive Symptoms Are Associated With Unhealthy Lifestyles in Hypertensive Patients With the Metabolic Syndrome." Journal of Hypertension. 23:3(2005):611-17. 1 Oct. 2008 <http://www.jhypertension.com/pt/re/jhypertension/abstract.00004872-200503000-00022.htm;jsessionid=LdKGpZxl1vzmtfpVH4BHKsn6zN52x9VmxvTvRdXpz1XLM9stbRhJ!1902130097!181195629!8091!-1?index=1&database=ppvovft&results=1&count=10&searchid=1&nav=search> (subscription).

Byrdwell, W. Craig. "Analysis of Triglycerides and Related Compounds in Food Using Liquid Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry Techniques." ars.usda.gov. 2 Oct. 2008. Agricultural Research Service, USDA.  3 Oct. 2008 <http://www.ars.usda.gov/research/publications/Publications.htm?seq_no_115=183893>.

"Insulin Resistance and Pre-Diabetes." diabetes.niddk.nih.gov. Aug. 2006. National Diabetes Foundation. 1 Oct. 2008 <http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/insulinresistance/>. 

"Metabolic Syndrome." clevelandclinic.org. 2008. Cleveland Clinic. 1 Oct. 2008 <http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/metabolic_syndrome/hic_metabolic_syndrome.aspx>. 

"Metabolic Syndrome." texasheart.org. Jul. 2007. Texas Heart Institute. 1 Oct. 2008 <http://www.texasheart.org/HIC/Topics/Cond/metabolic.cfm>. 

"Triglycerides." americanheart.org. 2008. American Heart Association. 3 Oct. 2008 <http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4778>.

 "What Is The Metabolic Syndrome?." americanheart.org. 2008. American Heart Association. 1 Oct. 2008 <http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4756>.

LifeWire, a part of The New York Times Company, provides original and syndicated online lifestyle content. Nancy Larson is a St. Louis-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in dozens of local and national print and online publications including CNN.com, The Weather Channel, Health magazine and The Advocate.
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