Metabolic syndrome is a clustering of dangerous risk factors for heart disease, such as an unhealthy waist circumference, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and elevated blood sugar. Individuals with three or more of these conditions are considered to have metabolic syndrome, which triples risk of heart attack and stroke. People with metabolic syndrome also have five times greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those without this condition.
To see just how common metabolic syndrome is in the United States, researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and published their findings recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association. NHANES is an ongoing, national study that surveys Americans on topics like education, health, diet and exercise.
Based on survey responses from 2003 to 2012, researchers found that one in three adults aged 20 years or older has metabolic syndrome. Overall, metabolic syndrome is more common in women than men and is most common among Hispanics. Researchers also found that risk of metabolic syndrome increases with age. Only 18% of young adults aged 20–39 years have metabolic syndrome, while 47% of adults over 60 years old are affected by this condition.
The good news is that contrary to past findings, the rise in metabolic syndrome has slowed in recent years. Although the proportion of Americans affected by metabolic syndrome increased from 33% to 36% between 2003 and 2007, rates leveled off from 2008–2012. In fact, metabolic syndrome decreased among women from 39% in 2007 to 37% by 2012.
On one hand, findings are alarming as metabolic syndrome is extremely common in the United States, putting millions at increased risk for heart disease and diabetes. Perhaps most concerning, most of the conditions associated with metabolic syndrome cause no symptoms, so many individuals are unaware of their increased risk.
On the other hand, experts are encouraged by recent trends. Their study suggests that not only have rates of metabolic syndrome remained stable in recent years, rates have declined in women. Authors highlight the need for greater awareness of metabolic syndrome and its health consequences. The more patients know about metabolic syndrome, the more they can do to prevent this dangerous clustering of medical conditions. With better screening and treatment, patients with metabolic syndrome can help lower their risk for the serious complications and improve their heart health.