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Vital Signs

Spring 2005

Prevalence of Metabolic Syndrome Rising

Condition points to those at greater risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes

Metabolic syndrome will soon displace cigarette smoking as the leading predictor of heart disease and stroke in the United States, says Susan Davis, M.D., endocrinologist at Santa Monica—UCLA Medical Center. “On average, 25 percent of American adults meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome, and its incidence climbs even higher among patients who are 40 years and older.”

Metabolic syndrome is not a disease but rather a group of commonly diagnosed metabolic disorders that are frequently found in clusters in individuals. People with three or more of these conditions (see sidebar) are at far greater risk for developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes than individuals with two or fewer metabolic conditions.

Metabolic syndrome is associated with insulin resistance whereby the body requires higher than normal levels of insulin to maintain appropriate sugar levels. Over time, harmful, yet often asymptomatic, changes to the body—including damage to coronary artery linings, a decrease in the kidneys’ ability to remove salt, a destructive change in lipid levels, and an increased tendency to develop blood clots—can lead to life-threatening problems.

Excess weight (especially around the waist), inactivity, unhealthy eating habits and genetics all increase the risk for developing metabolic syndrome. “A diagnosis of metabolic syndrome should be a wake-up call to adopt positive lifestyle choices to lessen the chance of developing dangerous complications,” advises Dr. Davis. “Early identification and intervention are key to preventing cardiovascular disorders.”

Dr. Davis recommends maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and eating a high-fiber, low-fat diet.

If necessary, medications may be prescribed to control specific risk factors (e.g., high blood pressure or elevated blood sugar levels) that do not respond to lifestyle modifications.

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