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Metabolic Syndrome

Alternative names: Syndrome X, Insulin Resistance Syndrome, and Dysmetabolic Syndrome

What is metabolic syndrome?
What are the signs of metabolic syndrome?
What causes metabolic syndrome?
How does my doctor tell if I have metabolic syndrome?
How is metabolic syndrome treated?

What is metabolic syndrome?

"Metabolism" refers to how your body creates energy from the food you eat. A person with metabolic syndrome has several disorders of the body's metabolism. The disorders include high blood pressure, insulin resistance, obesity, and high levels of "bad" cholesterol in your blood. All of these conditions increase your risk of getting heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, or having a stroke.

What are the signs of metabolic syndrome?

A person with metabolic syndrome has three or more of the following:

  • Obesity: a waistline of 40 inches or more for men and 35 inches or more for women
  • Blood pressure: 130/85 or higher
  • Triglyceride (part of "bad" cholesterol) levels: 150 mg/dl or above
  • HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol) levels: 40mg/dl or lower in men and 50mg/dl or lower in women
  • Fasting blood glucose (blood sugar) levels: 110 mg/dl or above

The symptoms of metabolic syndrome are related to the specific disorder of the body's metabolism. For instance, high triglyceride levels can lead to narrowing of the arteries, which can lead to chest pain (angina).

What causes metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is caused by a combination of factors. These include:

  • Genetics: a family history of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease greatly increases your chances of developing metabolic syndrome
  • Insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone produced by your pancreas that controls the sugar (glucose) levels in your blood. Normally, insulin helps move glucose from the bloodstream into the rest of the body, where the sugar is used as fuel. In people with insulin resistance, the sugar remains in the blood. This can lead to Type 2 diabetes, and can also raise your blood pressure.
  • Obesity: about 60% of people who are obese have metabolic syndrome, as compared to only 5% of people with normal body weight. Regular weight gain – as little as five pounds a year – also greatly increases your chances of developing metabolic syndrome.
  • Lifestyle: lack of regular exercise, and a diet high in saturated fat, can cause you to develop metabolic syndrome
  • Age: your chances of developing metabolic syndrome go up as you get older

How does my doctor tell if I have metabolic syndrome?

Blood tests for cholesterol and sugar levels, and a physical examination, can help a doctor diagnose metabolic syndrome.

How is metabolic syndrome treated?


Losing weight and starting a moderate exercise program can help keep you from developing metabolic syndrome. Doctors recommend that you plan to lose weight gradually – 1/2 to two pounds per week. Other suggestions:

  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, at least three days a week
  • Join a support group of people who are also trying to lose weight
  • Follow a sensible diet. The American Heart Association (AHA) does not recommend a single diet, but instead offers these suggestions:
    • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, five or more servings per day
    • Try to eat six or more servings per day of grains, especially whole grains
    • Limit foods that are high in saturated fat, trans-fat and/or cholesterol. These include full-fat milk products, fatty meats, and egg yolks, as well as items that contain tropical oils and partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils.
    • For protein, consume fat-free and low-fat milk products, fish, beans, skinless poultry, and lean meats
    • Choose fats and oils with two grams or less saturated fat per tablespoon. Consider using liquid and tub margarines, canola oil, or olive oil instead of butter.
    • Limit your intake of foods that is high in calories and low in nutrition, like soft drinks and candy
    • Eat less than six grams of salt (2,400 milligrams of sodium) per day
    • Drink alcohol in moderation: no more than one drink a day if you're a woman and no more than two if you're a man


  • Diuretics, calcium channel blockers, beta blockers, and other medications can lower blood pressure
  • Medications such as thiazolidinediones and Glucophage can help your body use insulin, and lower the effects of insulin resistance
  • Statins, bile acid sequestrants, nicotinic (Nick-o-tin-ick) acid, and fibrates can decrease levels of "bad" cholesterol and increase your levels of "good" cholesterol
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