Syndrome X: Are You at Risk for Metabolic Syndrome?

Syndrome X: Are You at Risk for Metabolic Syndrome?

Syndrome X: Are You at Risk for Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome, also known as Syndrome X (sounds like a spy movie villain, right?), refers to a collection of risk factors for life-threatening disease. “Metabolic" refers to the natural processes involved in the body's normal functioning. If you have metabolic syndrome, your body doesn’t function the way it should – opening the door to health issues.

It turns out abdominal obesity (belly fat), high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, low HDL ("good") cholesterol and high triglycerides (another type of blood fat) boost your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke.

Like its villainous sounding name, Syndrome X can be a dangerous risk factor for other chronic conditions, too. It is also associated with brain changes and mental deficits in adults and teens.

More than three million cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, but the good news is it can be prevented and treated. You are more likely to have metabolic syndrome if you are overweight or don’t get enough exercise.

People who have metabolic syndrome often have one or more other factors that may be linked with the condition. These include:

  • Greater risk of blood clotting
  • Higher levels of blood substances that contribute to inflammation throughout the body
  • Small amounts of a protein called albumin in the urine
Do the Math

There are five risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome. Risk factors are traits, conditions, or habits that increase your chance of developing a disease. These risk factors are related to excess abdominal weight or problems metabolizing fat and sugar in your diet.

While having any of the risk factors can mean trouble for your health, you need to have three or more to meet the definition of metabolic syndrome. If you’re not sure what any of your numbers are, ask your doctor.

Print this article and check each risk factor that applies to you. Do you have:

__ Extra weight in your middle. A waistline of 35 inches or more is a risk factor for women; 40 inches or more is a risk factor for men.

__ Low HDL. HDL is the “good” cholesterol. HDL is less than 40 mg/dL is a risk factor for men; less than 50 mg/dL is a risk factor for women.

__ High triglycerides. Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood. Having fasting triglycerides of 150 mg/dL or higher is a risk factor.

__ High blood pressure. A blood pressure of 130/85 or higher is a risk factor.

__ High fasting blood glucose. Having fasting blood glucose of 100 mg/dL or higher is a risk factor.

How many risk factors did you check? If you checked three or more, there is a good chance you have metabolic syndrome.

Risk Management

If you meet the definition of metabolic syndrome or have any of its risk factors, it’s important to know the difference between inherited risk factors and manageable ones. Inherited risk factors can’t be changed. Others can be managed by making healthy choices. Talk to your doctor and take steps to improve your manageable risk factors.

  • Lose weight. Losing just three to five percent of your current weight can make a difference. Losing more weight can help reduce all five risk factors.
  • Eat a heart healthy diet. Ask your doctor to recommend one. You can start by limiting or avoiding saturated or trans fats, coconut and palm oils, sugary foods and drinks, foods with added salt, alcohol and red meat.
  • Get active. Aim to get at least 2½ hours of physical activity each week. This can be as simple as brisk walking.
  • Quit smoking. If you smoke, quit. Ask your doctor to suggest products and programs that can help.
  • Take your medicine. If your doctor prescribes medicine to keep your HDL, triglycerides, blood pressure or blood glucose under control, take it as directed.

Are you at risk for metabolic syndrome? Talk to your doctor about making lifestyle choices to manage your risks.

Source: Metabolic Syndrome, leaving site icon National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, 2020.

Originally published 8/25/2016; Revised 2021