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What is metabolic syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is defined by 5 risk factors. According to the American Heart Association, when someone has at least 3 out of the 5 factors that contribute to metabolic syndrome, he or she has a much higher chance of developing heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other health problems. For example, a person with metabolic syndrome is twice as likely to develop heart disease and/or diabetes as a person who does not have it.1

Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed by a doctor when a person has 3 or more of these 5 factors:

  • Central obesity: This is also called “abdominal obesity” or “having an apple shape" and signifies being overweight. Central obesity is determined by measuring waist circumference. If the measurement is more than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women, the person has central obesity.
  • A higher than normal triglyceride level or taking medication to lower triglycerides: Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. High triglycerides are defined as a level of 150 mg/dL or above. This increases the chance of developing heart disease.
  • A higher than normal blood pressure or taking medication for blood pressure: Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the artery walls as the heart pumps blood. A high blood pressure reading is equal to or higher than 130/85 mm Hg. Having high blood pressure can damage the heart and lead to other health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and chronic kidney disease (CKD).
  • A higher than normal fasting glucose level or taking medication to lower glucose: Glucose, also called blood sugar, is what the body uses for energy. A glucose level of 100 mg/dL or above is considered high, and indicates a prediabetes level up to 124 mg/dL. A level of 125 mg/dL or higher may be a sign of type 2 diabetes, which can also adversely affect kidney functions.
  • A lower than normal HDL cholesterol level or taking medication for HDL levels: A high level of HDL is good because HD is the type of cholesterol that helps to remove bad cholesterol from the arteries. A lower than normal HDL cholesterol level for men is less than 40 mg/dL and for women is less than 50 mg/dL. A low HDL cholesterol level can lead to the development of heart disease.

Because the factors of metabolic syndrome are interrelated, improvement of lifestyle habits, like healthy eating, physical activity, and quitting tobacco/nicotine, can help individuals improve more than one risk factor at a time. 


1. About Metabolic Syndrome. American Heart Association. March 21, 2021. Accessed September 1, 2021.