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Metabolic syndrome has been called the “perfect storm” when it comes to heart disease risk. It’s a combination of health problems—for example, carrying too much fat around your waist, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels and abnormal cholesterol levels—that often occurs together and raises your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. This clustering of risk factors happens because the body has a hard time regulating cholesterol (lipids), certain proteins and sugars (glucose).

It can be worrying to learn that you or a loved one has metabolic syndrome. The upside is that if it is found early, it can serve as an important warning and help put you on a heart-healthier path. Many lifestyle changes, including weight loss, can prevent and even reverse every component of metabolic syndrome, or delay the development of serious health problems.  

“If we can catch these risk factors early on through blood tests and a physical exam, we can help reduce the risk that these patients will go on to develop heart disease and diabetes,” said Laura Ross, PA-C, Park Nicollet Heart and Vascular Center, St. Louis Park, Minn.

Untreated, metabolic syndrome can make a heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes much more likely. It can:  

  • Result in too much sugar in the blood
  • Damage the lining of the coronary arteries (those that supply blood to your heart) and other arteries
  • Raise levels of triglycerides (a form of fat) in the blood
  • Lower levels of HDL or “good” cholesterol in the blood
  • Raise blood pressure
  • Promote fatty deposits in the liver
  • Interfere with insulin production, which may make diabetes more likely, along with related health issues including nerve, eye and kidney problems

Metabolic syndrome has also been linked to sleep apnea, polycystic ovary syndrome, infertility and dementia.

Metabolic syndrome is thought to be triggered by insulin resistance, wider waist circumference, genetics (a family history of diabetes or early heart disease), and inactive lifestyles.

More research is needed to fully understand the connections.

  • Last Edited 03/31/2019