By now, the symptoms of metabolic syndrome are part of most Americans’ health conversations. Approximately 29% of  Americans have high blood pressure and 33% have high triglycerides. And most are familiar with the relationship between obesity and other risk factors. But how often do those conversations go the next step to the consequences of metabolic syndrome if it’s left unchecked?

It’s worth a reminder here that metabolic syndrome isn’t a disease, but a group of risk factors that increase your risk of several diseases. Five risk factors are considered when diagnosing metabolic syndrome. And only three need to be present for a positive diagnosis.

  1. high blood pressure 
  2. high fasting triglycerides
  3. low HDL cholesterol
  4. high fasting blood glucose (insulin resistance)
  5. abdominal obesity

Specific values for these risk factors can be found here. 

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

  • age (risk increases with age)
  • gender (men are at greater risk)
  • family history of metabolic syndrome and its components
  • family history of premature cardiovascular disease, diabetes and smoking
  • insufficient exercise or sedentary lifestyle
  • diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (women)
  • post-menopausal status (women)

The significance of clustering the five risk factors is that they are interrelated in their causes, pathophysiology, and responsiveness to medication and lifestyle modifications. And it is the interplay of these factors that is most predictive of the potential consequences of metabolic syndrome.

At the root of metabolic syndrome is insulin resistance, which is hinted at in rising blood glucose levels. 

Abdominal obesity, or visceral fat, is the most obvious clue to metabolic syndrome. Again, the risk factors tend to cluster, and visceral fat, which wraps around the abdominal organs, causes insulin resistance. 

In fact, adipose tissue in obese people is itself insulin resistant, causing a further sequence of metabolic and inflammatory problems.