The term “metabolic syndrome” is not exactly a common one, but that may change with this collection of troubling health traits on the rise. So, what is metabolic syndrome and why should you avoid it?
You can find great information about metabolic syndrome here, including further details on health factors. But the short version is that metabolic syndrome means you have three or more of these five health factors:
- High blood pressure
- Excess body fat with a large waist
- High triglyceride level
- Low HDL cholesterol
- High blood sugar
What’s at stake?
If you meet the qualifications for metabolic syndrome and have at least three of the five health factors, you are at an elevated risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. And, according to Mark Wargo, MD, a family medicine specialist with OSF Medical Group – Primary Care in Streator, Illinois, the more risk factors you have, the greater your risk.
“There can be significant quality of life issues if you have heart disease or stroke, and diabetes can impair your ability to function, too,” Dr. Wargo said. “It’s important because some of these things, once they occur, are irreversible. There are no guarantees you will recover all function after a stroke.”
Some of the health factors for metabolic syndrome are relatively symptom-free and hard to identify without proper medical testing, Wargo said, so you should call your primary care physician if you think there is a possibility you meet the criteria.
However, there are some signs you can look for.
High blood pressure can cause fatigue, dizziness, vision changes, headaches and even cause some people to get anxious, Dr. Wargo said. And with high blood sugar or diabetes, you may be extra hungry, extra thirsty and urinating often.
Undiagnosed or untreated sleep apnea increases your risk for all of these factors, as well, so take your sleep habits seriously. Sleep apnea can be easily dismissed, but it can have serious impacts, Dr. Wargo said.
Whether you have metabolic syndrome or simply want to avoid it, the way you can reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes is to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle.
That means regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. Eliminate junk food, stop smoking and decrease your alcohol intake. Eat less processed food and cook fresh food more often.
“I think it’s important that we work hard to try to modify the things that we can modify, such as exercise and diet,” Dr. Wargo said. “Work on weight loss. There are things out of our control between genetics and age, but we can try to make a difference through regular check-ups and working on the negative things that affect this stuff, such as smoking and eating fast food regularly.
“Eating healthy doesn’t have to be a chore anymore. There is so much information out there now as far as diets and recipe websites. It’s now easier than ever to find recipes that are healthy and taste good.”
Dr. Wargo suggests taking advantage of one of the many simple-to-use calorie and diet tracker smartphone apps to assist with weight loss. Or ask your physician to help connect you with a dietitian for some guidance and ideas for healthy eating.
“It’s about committing to it,” Dr. Wargo said. “Find a partner to keep you honest and motivated. Try to find ways to stay motivated. Set goals. Work with your provider to set goals, to stay safe and so it doesn’t seem so overwhelming, like you’re trying to do it all at once.”
Managing stress is important. Exercising, taking up a hobby or learning relaxation techniques can all help with stress reduction.
You should also get regular health check-ups with your physician at least once a year, or however often your physician advises.
“Also, be proud of your accomplishments,” Dr. Wargo said. “They may seem small, but they’re a step in the right direction, and that’s a big deal.”