Metabolic syndrome is the medical term for a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) and obesity.
They're very common conditions that are linked, which explains why metabolic syndrome affects an estimated 1 in 3 older adults aged 50 or older in the UK.
Symptoms of metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome may be diagnosed if you have 3 or more of the following symptoms:
- a waist circumference of 94cm or more in European men, or 90cm or more in South Asian men
- a waist circumference of 80cm or more in European and South Asian women
- high triglyceride levels (fat in the blood) and low levels of HDL (the "good" cholesterol) in your blood, which can lead to atherosclerosis (where arteries become clogged with 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 DVT (deep vein thrombosis)
- a tendency to develop irritation and swelling of body tissue (inflammation)
Causes of metabolic syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is often 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-Caribbean people, may be at greater risk
- other health 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 lifestyle changes, including:
- losing weight
- exercising regularly
- eating a healthy, balanced diet to keep your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels under control
- stopping smoking
- cutting down on alcohol
If necessary, a GP may prescribe medicine to help control your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.