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Metabolic Syndrome Health Center

Metabolic Syndrome: The Silent Epidemic

Serious condition is linked to obesity, lack of exercise
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WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Call it a silent epidemic. An estimated one in four adults is afflicted with the condition known as metabolic syndrome, and many of them don't even know it.

Obesity and lack of exercise are key components of this dangerous condition, which puts you at risk of developing serious health problems. That makes metabolic syndrome yet another reason to adopt healthier eating and exercise habits.

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11 Questions About Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors -- unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and excess belly fat -- that may raise your risks of serious illness, such as diabetes, and blood vessel and heart disease. If you've been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome -- or are worried you might have it -- here are some questions to ask your doctor. Print them out before your next appointment. Do I have any metabolic syndrome risk factors? Will I need medicine to...

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What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

According to the National Cholesterol Education Panel, if you have at least three of the following characteristics, you're classified as having metabolic syndrome:

  • Abdominal obesity (a waist size greater than 40 inches for men, and 35 inches for women)
  • Triglyceride levels of 150 or higher
  • HDL (good cholesterol) of less than 40 in men and 50 in women
  • Blood pressure of 130/85 or higher
  • Fasting blood sugar of 110 or more

The clustering of these traits has been linked to an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. And the more of them you have, the greater your risk.

It's very important to "know your numbers'': your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels (blood fats). That's because even someone who is only mildly overweight -- but who carries the extra fat around their middle and has mild high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar -- is at risk.

Most people with metabolic syndrome also have insulin resistance. That means the body does not properly use insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. An estimated 86% of people with diabetes also have metabolic syndrome.

What Causes It?

A diet high in unhealthy fats, sugars, and calories along with a lack of regular physical activity can certainly contribute to the risk factors for metabolic syndrome.

The actual causes of metabolic syndrome may be many, but researchers lean toward insulin resistance as the underlying problem.

Overweight people tend to develop a resistance to insulin -- a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels, pushing sugar into the body's cells, where it is used for energy. When you're resistant to insulin, blood sugar isn't effectively delivered into the cells. That leads to high blood-sugar levels in the bloodstream, which is one of the symptoms (and causes) of type 2 diabetes.

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