Metabolic syndrome affects about one in every three adults in the United States. It shortens lives and is a predictor for serious illness from cardiovascular disease. Why is a condition that is so serious so little known?
One reason metabolic syndrome is not recognized is that rather than being a single risk factor it is a grouping of risk factors. You would be considered to have metabolic syndrome if you have three or more out of five risk factors. The five risk factors are abdominal obesity, high triglyceride levels, low levels of high-density lipoproteins, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels after an overnight fast. Abdominal obesity is a waist size of 40 inches or more in a man or 35 inches or more in a woman. You are counted as having high blood pressure if you used medication to lower it to the normal range.
"When a patient presents with these risk factors together, the chances for future cardiovascular problems are greater than any one factor presenting alone," according to the American Heart Association.
A recent research letter in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that the incidence of metabolic syndrome was about 33% in 2003 and 35% in 2012. More than 35% of women and 30% of men qualify as having metabolic syndrome. It is more common in Hispanic people and in older individuals.
One piece of good news is that the researchers found that the overall prevalence of metabolic syndrome has stabilized. The incidence has decreased among women. It is not known why either of these trends is happening, although one possibility is that there is a greater awareness of obesity and a number of public health programs to help people lose weight.
Another piece of good news is that several of the risk factors involved in metabolic syndrome can be changed. Body weight can be reduced, which alone can moderate high blood pressure and normalize blood sugar levels.