Metabolic Syndrome

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Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Metabolic syndrome puts you at risk for:

  • Diabetes
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral vascular disease

These are the main characteristics of metabolic syndrome:

  • Central obesity — a high amount of fat around the waist
  • Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
  • High triglycerides — a type of fat measured in the blood
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated fasting blood sugar

Are You at Risk?

Factors that increase your risk of metabolic syndrome include:

  • Mexican American, Caucasian and African American ethnicity
  • Obesity
  • Having disorders or conditions associated with metabolic disorder such as:
    • Diabetes
    • High blood pressure
    • Cholesterol problems
    • Coronary artery disease
    • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Having a family history of the disorders listed above
  • Physical inactivity
  • Poor diet
  • Unhealthy habits, such as smoking
  • Certain medication, such as atypical antipsychotics

How We Diagnose Metabolic Syndrome

We may diagnose you with metabolic syndrome if you have at least three of the following:

  • A waist measurement greater than 40 inches in Caucasian men (35 inches in Asian men) or 35 inches in Caucasian women (30 inches in Asian women)
  • Fasting glucose level greater than or equal to 100 mg/dL* (5.55 mmol/L)
  • Triglyceride level greater than or equal to 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L)
  • HDL cholesterol less than 40 mg/dL (1.0 mmol/L) in men and less than 50 mg/dL (1.3 mmol/L) in women
  • Blood pressure greater than or equal to 130/85 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg)

*mg/dL = milligrams per deciliter blood, mmol/L = millimoles per liter blood

Treatment for Metabolic Syndrome

It's important to treat any underlying causes of metabolic syndrome. Treatment may include the following:

  • Reduce excess weight by at least 10%
  • Increase physical activity to 30-60 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise four or more days per week
  • Lower blood pressure to below 130/85 mmHg with diet, exercise and possibly medication
  • Improve triglyceride and HDL cholesterol levels through diet, exercise and possibly medication

Gastric bypass or other weight-loss surgery may be helpful to treat metabolic syndrome.

Treatment of Specific Metabolic Abnormality

Medication can help you manage:

  • High blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance
  • High cholesterol
  • Clotting tendency

Metabolic Syndrome Prevention

To reduce your chances of metabolic syndrome, take these steps:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Maintain a healthy weight by eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Exercise about 30 minutes at least four days per week.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.