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Metabolic Syndrome

Basic Facts

  • The metabolic syndrome is a cluster of risk factors, including abdominal obesity, abnormal cholesterol levels, elevated blood pressure, and elevated blood sugar.
  • A person who has the metabolic syndrome has 5 times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and twice the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
  • Insulin resistance and obesity may make a person more likely to develop the metabolic syndrome.
  • Lifestyle changes, including weight loss, regular exercise, a healthy diet, and not smoking, are the most effective first-line treatments for the metabolic syndrome.
The metabolic syndrome (also known as Syndrome X and insulin resistance syndrome) is a cluster of risk factors related to the body's metabolism that individually and collectively promotes the development of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes mellitus. It confers a 5-fold increase in a person's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and doubles the risk of having a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or stroke.


The metabolic syndrome typically has no symptoms.


It is unclear whether the metabolic syndrome has one single cause. Instead, researchers believe that certain risk factors make a person more likely to develop the metabolic syndrome, including:
  • Insulin resistance;
  • Abdominal obesity;
  • Age; and
  • Family history.

A physician diagnoses the metabolic syndrome by taking a patient health history and performing a physical evaluation. Tests physicians use to diagnose the condition include:
  • Blood test (for glucose level and lipid levels);
  • Blood pressure; and
  • Waistline measurement.
A person has the metabolic syndrome if he or she has at least 3 of the following 5 risk factors:
  • Abdominal obesity;
  • Elevated triglycerides;
  • Low HDL cholesterol levels;
  • Elevated blood pressure; and
  • Elevated fasting glucose.
Although each of these conditions is itself a risk factor for disease, when combined as the metabolic syndrome, they greatly increase the risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.


The main goal of treating a person with the metabolic syndrome is to lower his or her risk of developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle changes are considered the most effective first-line treatments for the metabolic syndrome, and include:
  • Weight loss;
  • Exercise;
  • Diet; and
  • Quitting smoking.
No one drug exists that can successfully treat the metabolic syndrome. However, a physician may prescribe one or more medications to treat the individual risk factors, including:
  • Lipid-lowering medications;
  • Antihypertensive drugs;
  • Weight-loss medications; and
  • Low-dose aspirin.
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