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Metabolic syndrome

Introduction

Metabolic syndrome is the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

It puts you at greater risk of getting coronary heart diseasestroke and other conditions that affect the blood vessels.

On their own, diabeteshigh blood pressure and obesity can damage your blood vessels, but having all three together is particularly dangerous.

They're very common conditions that are all linked, which explains why metabolic syndrome affects an estimated one in four adults in the UK.

This page covers:

Symptoms

Causes

Prevention and reversal

Symptoms of metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome may be diagnosed if you have three or more of the following symptoms:

  • a waist circumference of 94cm (37 inches) or more in European men, or 90cm (35.5 inches) or more in South Asian men
  • a waist circumference of 80cm (31.5 inches) or more in European and South Asian women
  • high triglyceride levels (fat in the blood) and low levels of HDL ("good" cholesterol) in the blood, which can lead to atherosclerosis (where arteries become clogged up by fatty substances such as cholesterol)
  • high blood pressure that's consistently 140/90mmHg or higher
  • an inability to control blood sugar levels (insulin resistance)
  • an increased risk of developing blood clots, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) 
  • a tendency to develop inflammation (irritation and swelling of body tissue)

What causes metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is associated with being overweight or obese, and a lack of physical activity.

It's also linked to insulin resistance, which is a key feature of type 2 diabetes. Blood sugar levels are controlled by a hormone called insulin. If you have insulin resistance, too much glucose can build up in your bloodstream.

Your chances of developing metabolic syndrome are greater if you have a family history of type 2 diabetes, or you've had diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes).

Other risk factors

Other factors that increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome include:

Preventing or reversing metabolic syndrome

You can prevent or reverse metabolic syndrome by making a number of lifestyle changes, including:

If necessary, your GP may prescribe medication to help control your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Read more about treating high blood pressuretreating type 2 diabetes and treating high cholesterol

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