What is metabolic syndrome?
Together, this group of health problems increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.
This syndrome raises your risk for coronary artery disease (CAD). It also increases your risk for diabetes.
What causes it?
Metabolic syndrome is caused by an unhealthy lifestyle that includes eating too many calories, being inactive, and gaining weight, particularly around your waist. This lifestyle can lead to insulin resistance, a condition in which the body is unable to respond normally to insulin. If you have insulin resistance, your body cannot use insulin properly, and your blood sugar will begin to rise. Over time, this can lead to type 2 diabetes.
What puts you at risk?
The things that make you more likely to develop metabolic syndrome include:
- Insulin resistance.
This means that your body cannot use insulin properly.
- Abdominal obesity.
This means having too much fat around your waist.
Your chances of developing metabolic syndrome increase as you get older.
- Lack of exercise.
If you do not exercise, you are more likely to be obese and develop metabolic syndrome.
- Hormone imbalance.
A hormone disorder such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition in which the female body produces too much of certain hormones, is associated with metabolic syndrome.
- Family history of type 2 diabetes.
Having parents or close relatives with diabetes is associated with metabolic syndrome.
- Race and ethnicity.
People of African, Hispanic, First Nations, Asian, and Pacific Islander descent are at higher risk than whites for type 2 diabetes.
How is it diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose metabolic syndrome with a physical examination, your medical history, and some simple blood tests.
You may be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of these risk factors: footnote 1
- Abdominal obesity (waist measurement).
Men: 102 cm (40 in.) or more
Women: 88 cm (35 in.) or more
Your waist measurement may be different. Talk to your doctor about what is right for you.
1.7 mmol/L or higher, or taking medicine for high triglycerides
- High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
Men: Less than 1.0 mmol/L
Women: Less than 1.3 mmol/L
Or taking medicine for low HDL cholesterol
- Blood pressure.
130/85 mm Hg or higher, or taking medicine for high blood pressure
- Fasting blood sugar.
5.6 mmol/L or higher, or taking medicine for high blood sugar
These criteria are from Diabetes Canada. Other organizations may have different criteria for diagnosis.
How is metabolic syndrome treated?
The main goal of treatment is to reduce your risk of coronary artery disease (CAD) and diabetes. The first approaches in treating metabolic syndrome are:
- Weight control.
Being overweight is a major risk factor for CAD. Weight loss lowers LDL cholesterol and reduces all of the risk factors for metabolic syndrome.
- Physical activity.
Lack of exercise is a major risk factor for CAD. Regular exercise can help improve cholesterol levels. It can also lower blood pressure, reduce insulin resistance, lower blood sugar levels, and improve heart function.
- Assessing risk category for CAD and diabetes.
Then you and your doctor may discuss other treatments to lower LDL, high blood pressure, or high blood sugar.
- Diabetes Canada Clinical Practice Guidelines Expert Committee, et al. (2018). Definition, classification and diagnosis of diabetes, prediabetes and metabolic syndrome. Canadian Journal of Diabetes, 42(Suppl 1): S10–S15. DOI: 10.1016/j.jcjd.2017.10.003. Accessed October 15, 2018.
Current as of:
December 2, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Jennifer Hone MD - Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
HealthLinkBC Files are easy-to-understand fact sheets on a range of public health and safety topics including disease prevention and immunizations.
Find Services and Resources
If you are looking for health services in your community, you can use the HealthLinkBC Directory to find hospitals, clinics, and other resources.