Metabolic syndrome, also known as Syndrome X, is a collection of risk factors for serious health problems like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

These factors include belly fat, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, low HDL ("good") cholesterol, and high triglycerides.

Metabolic syndrome is a serious health condition that raises your risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. It is also associated with changes in the brain and cognitive deficiencies in adults and teens.

According to the National Institutes of Health, people with a large waistline, an inactive lifestyle and insulin resistance are at greatest risk for metabolic syndrome.

People who have metabolic syndrome often have one or more other factors that may be linked with the condition, including:

  • Increased risk of blood clotting
  • Increased levels of blood substances that are a sign of inflammation throughout the body
  • Small amounts of a protein called albumin in the urine

Metabolic syndrome is on the rise in the United States. But it is treatable and can be preventable. Learning whether you have the risk factors that make up metabolic syndrome is an important first step.

Count Your Risk Factors

Risk factors are traits, conditions or habits that increase your chance of developing a disease. Some risk factors are inherited, but others can be changed by making healthy choices. 

There are five main risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome. These risks 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 your numbers are, ask your doctor.

How many risk factors 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 of 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.

Protect Your Health

If you meet the definition of metabolic syndrome or have any of these risk factors, talk to your doctor.

Your doctor can help you safely begin to take the following steps to protect your health.

  • Lose weight. Losing just 3 to 5 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 a heart-healthy diet. 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 150 minutes 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.