Metabolic syndrome is the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
They're very common conditions that are all linked, which explains why metabolic syndrome affects an estimated one in four adults in the UK.
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:
- your age – your risk increases as you get older
- your race – certain ethnic groups, such as Asian and African-Carribean people, may be at greater risk
- other conditions – your risk is greater if you've had cardiovascular disease ↗, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) ↗, or, in women, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) ↗
Preventing or reversing metabolic syndrome
You can prevent or reverse metabolic syndrome by making a number of lifestyle changes, including:
- losing weight ↗
- exercising regularly ↗
- eating healthily ↗ – to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels under control
- stopping smoking ↗
- cutting down on alcohol ↗
If necessary, your GP may prescribe medication to help control your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.