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(Metabolic syndrome is also known as "Syndrome X" or insulin resistance syndrome)
What is the metabolic syndrome anyway?
Quite often people who have either high blood pressure, diabetes, or who are overweight also have one or more of the other conditions, although it may have gone unnoticed.
On their own each one of these conditions can lead to health problems, for example damage to blood vessels, but occurring together they are much more likely to cause harm. When these conditions occur together people become much more likely to be affected by heart disease, stroke and other health issues connected with problems with the blood vessels.
When someone has such a combination, they're said to have metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is also referred to as insulin resistance syndrome (because one of the features is a very high level of the hormone insulin in the blood, which the body doesn’t react to or is resistant to) or sometimes syndrome X.
In the Western World Metabolic syndrome is very common and becoming more so. In the USA, surveys estimate that as many as one in four adults has metabolic syndrome. In the UK research suggests that a similar number of people are affected here. Also it is more common in certain ethnic groups (Asian and Afro-Caribbean people) and among women who have polycystic ovary syndrome.
What are the symptoms
If a person has been diagnosed with any three of the above features they may have metabolic syndrome.
What causes metabolic syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is very complex and doctors have yet to work out exactly what goes on in the body at the level of the cells and molecules. However, there seem to be three contributory factors: an inherited genetic tendency, being overweight and physical inactivity.
It seems some people are born with a genetic tendency to develop insulin resistance. If they put on a lot of weight and don’t do enough exercise, they become insulin resistant and develop the metabolic syndrome.
Is it preventable?
Although much more research has to be done to work out the relationship between different factors in metabolic syndrome, and how drug treatments might be used to help people, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Lifestyle changes can make a big difference, preventing or delaying the development of serious disease. Losing weight and getting active are the top priority. But make sure you get proper advice and support - research has shown that people who join a weight-loss group, for example, are more likely to lose weight and keep it off.
In terms of getting fitter and increasing your activity levels,join a gym or find a sport you enjoy. You're more likely to stick at it if you like what you're doing.
Some preventative treatments are also available from your GP. It's important to keep your blood pressure under control, for example. However, some blood pressure treatments, such as diuretics and beta blockers, can actually make metabolic syndrome worse.
Check with your doctor if you're concerned. Drugs to control blood fat and cholesterol levels, and blood glucose levels, are often needed,too