What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that together increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and cardiovascular problems, including heart attack. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by high blood pressure (high blood pressure), high blood sugar, dyslipidemia (abnormal levels of cholesterol and fat in the blood), and excess abdominal fat.

By age 65, metabolic syndrome affects 30 to 40 percent of adults. Symptoms of metabolic syndrome are rare—so diagnosis depends on blood tests and other clinical measures.

Lifestyle changes are the treatment of choice for metabolic syndrome, although medication is required in some cases.

also known as

  • metropolis
  • metropolis
  • Syndrome X
  • insulin resistance syndrome
  • dysmetabolic syndrome

Metabolic Syndrome Symptoms

One of the main features of metabolic syndrome is that it is often asymptomatic. This is important to you because components of the syndrome can get worse without you realizing it.

However, some symptoms may be related to this condition; if you have metabolic syndrome, you may or may not experience them. The most obvious sign of metabolic syndrome is weight gain, which you may have if you are overweight and/or have a large waist.

Clinical symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome include:

  • Dizziness
  • fatigue
  • Signs often associated with diabetes, such as thirst and frequent urination
  • snoring
  • hard to fall asleep
  • headache

When you have metabolic syndrome, the symptoms you may experience are due to the effects of each individual component of the syndrome. High blood pressure can cause dizziness, fatigue, and headaches. High blood sugar can cause sleep problems, fatigue, dizziness, thirst, dry mouth, and frequent urination. Obesity can lead to fatigue and snoring.

While the fact that metabolic syndrome is often asymptomatic may seem scary, it’s important to know that the diagnosis isn’t elusive. Routine physical examination can identify the syndrome.

Causes and Risk Factors

Metabolic syndrome is caused by a combination of lifestyle factors, genetic susceptibility, and other health risk factors beyond your control. Some factors overlap and amplify each other. For example, obesity is associated with high blood pressure and high triglyceride levels. High blood pressure is associated with high blood sugar levels.

Risk factors for metabolic syndrome include:

  • obesity
  • Insulin resistance
  • high-calorie or high-carbohydrate diet
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • sleep deprivation
  • Family history of diabetes or metabolic syndrome
  • age
  • have diabetes
  • have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • taking medicines that cause weight gain or increases in blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and blood sugar levels

Although an obvious cause of metabolic syndrome has not been identified, it is closely related to insulin resistance, a condition in which the body cannot efficiently use insulin to move glucose (sugar) from the blood into cells so it can be used for energy . Due to insulin resistance, sugar builds up in the blood, which can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes.

Being overweight is associated with visceral (abdominal) adipose tissue (fat). Also known as belly fat, visceral fat surrounds the internal organs and is associated with insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can lead to weight gain, and weight gain can lead to insulin resistance.

Additionally, studies have shown that abdominal visceral fat is pro-inflammatory and may release toxins that affect insulin sensitivity.

Many health conditions commonly coexist with metabolic syndrome, including type 2 diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, polycystic ovary syndrome, and sleep apnea. These conditions are also associated with altered insulin/glucose metabolism and chronic inflammation.


Diagnosis of metabolic syndrome is simple and based on specific criteria. Screening for components of metabolic syndrome is part of a routine physical examination. If you keep your health maintenance appointments regularly, your tests may show signs of illness in the early stages.

You will be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of these five clinical signs:

  • Waist 40 inches or more for men; 35 inches or more for women
  • Triglyceride levels of 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or higher
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels (good cholesterol) less than 40 mg/dL in men; less than 50 mg/dL in women
  • Blood pressure of 130/85 mmHg or higher
  • Fasting blood glucose of 100 mg/dL or higher

Note that even if you only have one or both of these criteria, you may be at risk for metabolic syndrome and its complications. Getting treatment before you meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome can help prevent health problems from developing.


Usually, metabolic syndrome is reversible. It is important to start treatment if you have this condition. If left untreated, metabolic syndrome can worsen and complications can lead to serious decline in your health.

Losing weight is generally recommended, but not if you are not overweight. The ideal body mass index (BMI) is less than 25. For most people, losing 5 to 10 percent of total body weight can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the effects of metabolic syndrome.

Sometimes diet and exercise are sufficient to achieve a target weight, but bariatric surgery (bariatric surgery) may be an option for people with a BMI of 40 or higher or a BMI of 35 to 39 with weight-related health conditions.


Changing your diet can go a long way in reversing metabolic syndrome, especially in the early stages.

Dietary strategies include:

  • Get plenty of vegetables, lean protein, and plant-based fats (such as olive oil and avocado)
  • Limit sugar intake
  • Make sure you have enough fiber in your daily diet
  • Watch Calories and Serving Sizes
  • Choose high-quality carbohydrates that are high in fiber, low in sugar, and refined flour

The effect of diet on metabolic syndrome is not related to weight loss. So even if you don’t have a high BMI, you need to develop these habits.


Exercise can help you lose weight, and it also protects against the effects of metabolic syndrome, independent of weight. Regular exercise can lower triglyceride levels, raise HDL, and possibly lower blood pressure in some people.

Getting regular exercise a few times a week is an effective way to manage metabolic syndrome—and the point is it requires continuous.

Physical activity guidelines generally call for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week. Of course, the more the better, but any amount can be beneficial.

Some research suggests that high-intensity interval training may be especially helpful for metabolic syndrome, and that it can produce results in a shorter period of time.

Consider getting a professionally-guided exercise regimen to ensure you get the workout you need while avoiding sports-induced injuries.

lifestyle factors

Diet and exercise have a major impact on metabolic syndrome. But other lifestyle factors also play an important role.

Lifestyle changes that can help reduce the effects of metabolic syndrome include:

  • Get quality sleep (at least six hours per night)
  • quit smoking
  • Manage stress through practices like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing

Managing metabolic syndrome requires ongoing lifestyle habits. It is not based on a one-time event or ad hoc effort that can be stopped once a certain milestone is reached.


In many cases, lifestyle changes alone can combat metabolic syndrome, but sometimes a prescription drug is required. You and your healthcare provider can determine if your lifestyle changes are enough or if you need to take medication to manage your metabolic syndrome.

Your healthcare provider may prescribe:

  • Cholesterol-lowering drugs: Statins help lower triglyceride levels.
  • Antihypertensives: Prescription medications to lower elevated blood pressure include angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta-blockers, or diuretics.
  • Diabetes medications: Oral diabetes medications, such as Glucophage (metformin), GLP-1, or DPP-4, can lower blood sugar if dietary management doesn’t work.
  • Fiber supplements: The use of fiber may have an effect on metabolic syndrome, but it is unclear whether this approach is as effective as consuming fiber in the diet. Consult your healthcare provider before you take dietary fiber supplements.

Do all fiber supplements lower cholesterol levels?


It’s important to know that children may have features of metabolic syndrome and may develop health complications from the disorder.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), children should be screened for the various components of metabolic syndrome — obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and blood fat and cholesterol levels.

Even children who do not meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome should be treated for any of these problems.


Metabolic syndrome can have serious health consequences. Each of these factors by itself increases the risk of life-threatening diseases, such as heart attack and stroke. Each of these factors is interrelated with other factors.

Complications of metabolic syndrome include:

  • Diabetes: A disease in which the body does not adequately metabolize blood sugar. The resulting high blood sugar can cause damage to the eyes, blood vessels, kidneys, and nerves.
  • Atherosclerosis: Stiff blood vessels and the buildup of cholesterol plaque increase the risk of blockage in the heart (heart attack) or brain (stroke).
  • Kidney disease: Chronic high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, and vascular disease can damage the kidneys, eventually leading to kidney failure and possible need for dialysis.
  • Peripheral vascular disease: Blood flow to the legs can be impaired, causing pain, fatigue, and problems with wound healing.

Left untreated, metabolic syndrome doubles the risk of heart disease and fivefolds the risk of diabetes within 10 years of diagnosis. But because the components of metabolic syndrome can be measured, your healthcare provider can track your improvement over time and adjust your treatment as needed.

VigorTip words

Metabolic syndrome can have serious effects if left untreated, but at the same time it is very likely to be reversed without medication or other medical treatments.

Many people can effectively cope with metabolic syndrome by losing weight, exercising, improving their diet, and quitting smoking. Making such changes to your lifestyle can be challenging, but reducing your risk of serious chronic disease makes the effort worth it.