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Metabolic Syndrome

The risk factors that make up metabolic syndrome -- unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and excess belly fat -- raise your odds of serious health problems. These include diabetes and blood vessel or heart disease.

Specifically, metabolic syndrome can lead to arteriosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries." This is when fats, cholesterol, and other substances stick to the sides of the arteries. The arteries then become clogged and brittle. Blood clots form when the arterial walls are damaged. If a blood clot forms, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Here are some sobering statistics from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • This year 1.5 million Americans will have a heart attack -- 500,000 will die.
  • This year 795,000 Americans will have a stroke.
  • 68% of people over the age of 65 with diabetes die from heart disease.

Metabolic Syndrome: A Debated Condition

Metabolic syndrome is a fairly new diagnosis. It's somewhat controversial. Some doctors don't think that it's an important way of looking at a person's health.

At first, some researchers thought that metabolic syndrome was more hazardous than the sum of its parts. They said that the combination of different risk factors was particularly dangerous.

However, recent research has cast doubt on this idea. Having metabolic syndrome may also be a less accurate way of predicting heart disease than was first hoped.

But these expert debates shouldn't really affect you. If you have high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol, high blood sugar, or are overweight, you are at risk. Your odds of heart attack, stroke, or diabetes are higher. You need to do something about it.

Even if metabolic syndrome isn't a condition in itself, you should still take it as a sign that you need to improve your lifestyle and habits.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on January 23, 2012
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