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Metabolic Syndrome FAQs

Reviewed by Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

Take the Metabolic Syndrome Quiz First! Before reading this FAQ, challenge yourself and
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Q:Metabolic syndrome increases a person's risk of heart disease and diabetes. True or False?

A:True. Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that come together in a single individual. Specifically, metabolic syndrome is a cluster of the following: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol levels, and belly fat – all of which increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Obviously, having any one of these risk factors isn't good. But when they're combined, they set the stage for grave problems. These risk factors double your risk of blood vessel disease and heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. These risk factors increase your risk of diabetes by 5 times.

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Q:People with metabolic syndrome are usually...

A:Overweight or obese. People with metabolic syndrome are most often overweight or obese.

The syndrome runs in families, and is more common among African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans. Further, the risk of developing metabolic syndrome increases with age.

Experts say that metabolic syndrome is becoming more common because of rising obesity rates. Moreover, having extra fat in the belly (as opposed to elsewhere in the body) seems to increase the risk. Even people who are not obese may have inherited a higher risk. This includes people who have parents or other first-degree relatives with diabetes.

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Q:Nearly 50 million Americans have metabolic syndrome. True or False?

A:True.

Although it was only identified less than 20 years ago, metabolic syndrome is as widespread as pimples and the common cold. According to the American Heart Association, 47 million Americans have it. That's almost a staggering 1 out of every 6 people!

In other countries: Around 25% of adults in Europe and Latin America are estimated to have the condition, and rates are rising in developing East Asian countries. Within the US, Mexican Americans have the highest prevalence of metabolic syndrome. The prevalence of metabolic syndrome increases with age, and about 40% of people over 60 are affected.

Metabolic syndrome is also becoming more common. The good news is that it can be controlled.

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Q:Metabolic syndrome goes by an alternate (yet scary) name. What is it?

A:Syndrome X. Metabolic syndrome also goes by the scary-sounding name "Syndrome X."

Other names for metabolic syndrome are:
- Dysmetabolic syndrome - Hypertriglyceridemic waist - Insulin resistance syndrome - Obesity syndrome

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Q:Who should be concerned about their risk factors for metabolic syndrome?

A:Everyone.

Given how common metabolic syndrome is, everyone should be worried about the risk factors. After all, metabolic syndrome can dramatically increase your risk of serious health problems, such as diabetes, heart attacks, and strokes -- yet often people don't even know what metabolic syndrome is.

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Q:Most of the metabolic syndrome risk factors don't have any symptoms. True or False?

A:True.

Most of the metabolic syndrome risk factors don't have any symptoms. Often, the only outward sign is packing some extra weight in the belly, which usually results in a larger waist. The only way to find out if you have metabolic syndrome is to meet with your doctor. He or she will check your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. It's another reason that regular check-ups are the key to staying healthy.

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Q:What is considered a large waist for a woman?

A:35 inches or larger.

According to the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, women with waists measuring 35 inches or larger are at risk metabolic syndrome.

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Q:What is considered a large waist for a man?

A:40 inches or larger.

According to the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, men with waists measuring 40 inches or larger are at risk metabolic syndrome. In addition to a large waist, risk factors for metabolic syndrome include high triglycerides, low good cholesterol (HDL) level, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar. Important note: To be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, you would have at least three of these risk factors.

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Q:Metabolic syndrome is not seen in people with normal body weight. True or False?

A:False. Weight is a significant influence in the development of metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is present in about 22% of individuals who are overweight, and 60% of individuals considered obese. Adults who continue to gain 5 or more pounds per year raise their risk of developing metabolic syndrome by up to 45%.

Additionally, while obesity is likely the greatest risk factor, others factors of concern include:
- women who are post-menopausal
- smoking
- eating an excessively high carbohydrate diet
- lack of activity (even without weight change)

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Q:What is the preferred treatment for metabolic syndrome?

A:Lifestyle modification.

Lifestyle modification is the preferred treatment of metabolic syndrome. Weight reduction usually requires a specifically tailored multifaceted program that includes diet and exercise. Sometimes medications may be useful. Other lifestyle changes may include losing weight, following a heart healthy diet, and quitting smoking. With respect to exercise, a sustainable exercise program, for example 30 minutes 5 days a week is reasonable to start, providing there is no medical contraindication. A sustainable exercise program, for example 30 minutes 5 days a week is reasonable to start, providing there is no medical contraindication.

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