Weight Loss

Metabolic Syndrome: Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatment, and Prevention

Metabolic Syndrome is a group of five factors that increase the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and stoke. The more factors you have, the higher your chances of developing metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome impacts up to one-third of American adults, according to the American Heart Association. Metabolic syndrome is one of the strongest predictors of heart disease. Today, we’ll review the symptoms, risk factors, prevention, and treatments.

Symptoms and risk factors

Symptoms you experience won’t specifically point to metabolic syndrome, but rather the individual factors that when experienced together, point to that diagnosis. For example, one visible sign is a large waist circumference. If your blood sugar is high, you might notice the signs and symptoms of diabetes, such as increased thirst and urination, fatigue, and blurred vision. But some factors, like high blood pressure, won’t result in obvious symptoms. If you experience any one symptom, it’s a good idea to speak to your provider about your risk for developing other factors and how to prevent the progression towards metabolic syndrome.

The five factors that compose metabolic symptom are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Low HDL levels or high density lipoprotein (good cholesterol)
  • High blood sugar levels (insulin resistance)
  • Excess fat around the waist that measures 35”+ for women and 40”+ for men.
  • High triglyceride levels

According to the Mayo Clinic, these other factors also increase your chances of having metabolic syndrome:

  • Age. Your risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age.
  • Ethnicity. In the United States, Hispanics, especially Hispanic women, appear to be at the greatest risk of developing metabolic syndrome. The reasons for this are not entirely clear.
  • Diabetes. You’re more likely to have metabolic syndrome if you had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes.
  • Other diseases. Your risk of metabolic syndrome is higher if you’ve ever had nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome or sleep apnea.

Some people are also at risk for metabolic syndrome because they take medicines that cause weight gain or changes in blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. Some examples are mediations used to treat allergies, HIV, and inflammation, among others.

Maintaining regular wellness checks will also enable you and your provider to notice changes in your health that could otherwise go undetected.


Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when at least three of the five factors that compose metabolic syndrome are positive.

  • Blood pressures greater the 130/80 mm hg
  • Elevated triglycerides greater than 150
  • Low HDL levels or high density lipoprotein (good cholesterol)

But the two most important risk factors according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute are:

  • Elevated blood glucose level (or insulin resistance)
  • Abdominal obesity.

Most people that have metabolic syndrome also have insulin resistance. Sources at Johns Hopkins Medical share that insulin resistance is when a body doesn’t respond to insulin the body produces to help glucose (converted from foods consumed) be used as energy. Glucose then builds up in the blood, while the pancreas also produces more insulin to compensate. The result is that blood sugar increases, leading to health issues.

Too much fat around the waist, (the “apple” shape), may increase health risks even more than having fat in other parts of your body (such as a “pear” shape where excess weight is mostly around the hips and buttock). Women with a waist size of more than 35 inches and men with a waist size of more than 40 inches may be at increased risk for other health issues as well.

Since other risk factors like age and ethnicity aren’t controllable factors, being aware that they play into the risk of metabolic syndrome is important.


If untreated, metabolic syndrome can result in heart disease and diabetes. Treatment usually focuses on lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure, and managing diabetes (if present). Preventing diabetes is important if it hasn’t yet developed, as long term issues can include vision loss, kidney disease, heart disease, and other serious concerns. Reducing the factors that contribute to metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin resistance, weight) is the best way to reduce the risk of more serious complications.

“A study in which 53 percent of people had metabolic syndrome at the start found that over three years, intensive lifestyle changes—mainly diet and exercise—resulted in the lowest risk of developing diabetes and the lowest risk of developing metabolic syndrome in those who didn’t have it,” says Chiadi E. Ndumele, M.D., M.H.S. , cardiologist at the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease.

Since metabolic syndrome is closely linked to being overweight, obesity, and inactivity, the first element of protection (or treatment) against metabolic syndrome is maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

  • Regular physical activity- 30 minutes on most days. Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get in a solid 30 minutes- splitting it up throughout the day also counts.
  • Healthy diet consisting of whole foods, a low amount of processed foods, lean proteins, and grains.

If making these changes isn’t enough, your provider may couple them with medications.

Weight loss alone can result in a significant reduction in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome. That physical activity and a generally healthy lifestyle can reduce risk of developing metabolic syndrome should not be discounted; small shifts in your habits can make a huge difference over time. Walk in place while watching your favorite show for five, then ten minutes nightly if physical activity isn’t a part of your routine. Add more time as you build the routine. Try our weekly exercise suggestions. Make small adjustments to your diet- try eating more plant-based foods, skip red meat several times a week and try a lean protein or no meat. Before you know it, the small changes become a norm and you’re on a path to improved health.










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