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Metabolic Syndrome: The Gateway to Serious Diseases

Metabolic syndrome, also known as Syndrome X, is a group of ‘risk factors’ or conditions that increase the likelihood of developing serious diseases such as coronary artery disease, hypertension, strokes, diabetes, and liver cirrhosis (scarring and poor function of the liver).

These ‘risk factors’ are:


  • Abdominal obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance can lead to high blood glucose/sugar levels
  • High levels of triglycerides (lipid), a type of fat in the blood
  • Low levels of HDL (High-Density Lipoproteins) or good cholesterol in the blood

“Metabolic syndrome is the ‘pre-form disease stage’ where the chances of developing diseases in the near future are high. However, this is also the stage when a person can reverse the risk factors by appropriate lifestyle changes,” says Dr Sushila Kataria, Director, Internal Medicine, Medanta-The Medicity.

According to doctors, there are certain set criteria to determine whether a person has metabolic syndrome.


Risk factors Risk Numbers Ideal Numbers
Central Obesity (Waist
Circumference (WC))
Women: 90 cms and above
Men: 100 cms and above

Talk to a doctor to know about an ideal WC according to the height

Blood pressure 135/85 mmHg or more 120/80 mmHg
Blood glucose/sugar levels Fasting: More than 110 mg/dL
Post meals: Less than 126 mg/dL
Fasting: Between 72 to 99 mg/dL
Post meals: up to 140 mg/dL
Triglycerides level More than 150 mg/dL Less than 150 mg/dL
HDL or good cholesterol Less than 40 mg/dL More than 50 mg/dL


What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?

The exact cause of the metabolic syndrome is not clear but according to doctors, the underlying reasons are often a combination of a lack of physical activity, genetics, environmental factors, obesity and age. Metabolic syndrome has also been linked to insulin resistance but the cause-effect relationship between the two is still unknown. Insulin resistance is a condition where the cells of the body don't respond properly to the hormone insulin which is secreted by the pancreas.

Doctors say that unfortunately, Indians as a race, have more than one risk factor associated with metabolic syndrome.

How is Metabolic Syndrome Identified?

Metabolic syndrome has no immediate symptoms and the complications associated with it develop gradually as well. Some of the tell-tale signs to look out for include:


  • Obesity or overweight
  • Central obesity
  • Dark and velvety skin patches in the back of the neck and armpits. These are signs of insulin resistance
  • For girls, the signs can be facial hair growth, irregular periods and excessive hair fall.

“People with this condition generally have an apple-shaped body, which means they have a lot of weight around their abdomen and have a disproportionate waist, which is not a good sign,” explains Dr Bornali Datta, Associate Director, Respiratory and Sleep Medicine, Medanta.


Consequences of Metabolic Syndrome


  • When the body is insulin-resistant, the levels of sugar in the blood remain high constantly. This leads to developing diabetes. Once a person develops uncontrolled diabetes, they become prone to nerve, eye and kidney damage. Insulin resistance can also lead to accumulation of fat in the liver, causing NAFLD (Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease), which if left untreated can progress to liver cirrhosis.
  • High cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides and hypertension lead to plaque build-up in the lining of arteries, making them hard and narrow. This increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Chances of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem increase because of one’s unhealthy appearance.


Dealing with Metabolic Syndrome

Consulting a doctor is the best option to detect metabolic syndrome and prevent the onset of other diseases. A person will need to undergo a few diagnostic tests like blood sugar test and lipid profile test, blood pressure monitoring, and Body Mass Index (BMI) calculation.

If a person is found to be detected with factors associated with metabolic syndrome, doctors sometimes prescribe Metformin, which is the first-line medication to treat high blood sugar, along with cholesterol medicines to lower the Low-Density Lipoproteins (LDL) which is also commonly called the bad cholesterol. But leading a healthy lifestyle is the best way to reverse it, doctors say.

How Can You Decrease Your Risk?

The risk of suffering from metabolic syndrome can be reduced by adopting some healthy habits.


  1. Increase physical activity: Regular exercising of any form can be beneficial for health. “Exercise at least for 60 minutes, six days a week,” suggests Dr Kataria.
  2. Pick food wisely: Fruits, vegetables and whole grains should be a part of the daily diet. Try and reduce the intake of foods containing simple carbohydrates (white flour, potatoes), high saturated fat (cheese, cream, butter) red meat (pork, mutton) and high sugar.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight: Normal body weight should be maintained through regular exercise and a good diet.
  4. Smoking and alcohol: Smoking increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke and lung cancer and should be avoided. Alcohol should also be had in moderation.


Medanta Medical Team
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