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What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that together raise your risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other serious health problems. Metabolic syndrome is also called insulin resistance syndrome.

You may have metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of the following conditions.

  • A large waistline: This is also called abdominal obesity or “having an apple shape.” Extra fat in your stomach area is a bigger risk factor for heart disease than extra fat in other parts of your body.
  • High blood pressure: If your blood pressure rises and stays high for a long time, it can damage your heart and blood vessels. High blood pressure can also cause plaque, a waxy substance, to build up in your arteries. Plaque can cause heart and blood vessel diseases such as heart attack or stroke.
  • High blood sugar levels: This can damage your blood vessels and raise your risk of getting blood clots. Blood clots can cause heart and blood vessel diseases.
  • High blood triglycerides: Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood. High levels of triglycerides can raise your levels of LDL cholesterol, sometimes called bad cholesterol. This raises your risk of heart disease.
  • Low HDL cholesterol, sometimes called good cholesterol: Blood cholesterol levels are important for heart health. “Good” HDL cholesterol can help remove “bad” LDL cholesterol from your blood vessels. “Bad” LDL cholesterol can cause plaque buildup in your blood vessels.

Metabolic syndrome is common World Wide. About 1 in 3 adults have metabolic syndrome. The good news is that it is largely preventable. Knowing the risk factors and making healthy lifestyle changes can help you lower your chances of developing metabolic syndrome or the health problems it can cause.

What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?

Experts aren’t sure why metabolic syndrome develops. It’s a collection of risk factors, not a single disease. So it probably has many causes. Some risk factors are:

  • Insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps your body use glucose — a simple sugar made from the food you eat — as energy. In people with insulin resistance, the insulin doesn’t work as well, so your body keeps making more and more of it to cope with the rising level of glucose. Eventually, this can lead to diabetes. Insulin resistance is closely connected to having excess weight in the belly.
  • Obesity, especially abdominal obesity. Experts say that metabolic syndrome is becoming more common because of rising obesity rates. In addition, having extra fat in the belly — as opposed to elsewhere in the body — seems to increase your risk.
  • Unhealthy lifestyle. Eating a diet high in unhealthy processed foods and not getting enough physical activity can play a role.
  • Hormonal imbalance. Hormones may play a role. For instance, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a condition that affects fertility, is related to hormonal imbalance and metabolic syndrome.
  • Smoking.

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