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Signs and Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a group of conditions that include too much fat around the waist, elevated blood pressure, high triglycerides, elevated blood sugar and low HDL cholesterol. These conditions pose a threat of increasing your risk for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.

The term “metabolic” refers to the biochemical processes involved in the body’s normal functioning. Metabolic syndrome is caused by an unhealthy lifestyle that includes being overly sedentary, eating too many calories and gaining weight, particularly around the waist.

According to a 2014 study published in Chronic Diseases and Injuries in Canada, 19.1% of all Canadian adults — nearly 1 in 5 people — meet this diagnosis[1]. Most people are unaware of it.

What are the Early Signs of Metabolic Syndrome?

Most of the disorders that are associated with MetS don’t have obvious signs or symptoms. One sign is a visibly large waist circumference, often described as the “apple” or “pear” body shape.

Having just one of the conditions typically associated with MetS does not necessarily mean you have MetS, but it does mean you have a greater risk of serious disease. If you continue to develop more of these conditions, your risk of complications such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes, rises further.

Metabolic syndrome is also closely linked to a condition called insulin resistance. Normally, your digestive system works to break down the foods you eat into sugar. Insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas, helps this sugar enter your blood cells to be used by your body as fuel. In individuals with insulin resistance, cells don’t respond normally to insulin and glucose isn’t able to enter cells as easily, leading to your blood sugar levels rising as your body produces more and more insulin. Insulin resistance can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes if gone untreated.

How is Metabolic Syndrome Treated?

The main goal of treating MetS is to address risk for other high-risk conditions such as coronary artery disease and diabetes. Heart healthy lifestyle changes are traditionally the first treatment for MetS. These changes include adapting a heart-healthy diet, lowering weight through physical activity and healthier lifestyle choices, adapting stress management techniques and quitting smoking.

When lifestyle changes aren’t enough to control risk factors for MetS a health care practitioner may prescribe medication. These medications can be designed to:

  • Decrease the chance of heart attack
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Prevent blood clots

The Cost of Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome comes at a high cost to all Canadians. Because of the prevalence of the conditions that exist within, it is likely all Canadians will be affected by MetS in some way in their lifetime.

A 2014 study of 4,435 employees found that 30% of the employees involved had MetS. These employees were more likely to take sick days, have higher stress levels, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression or osteoporosis than those without MetS.

Health care costs for employees with MetS who reported sufficient exercise (150 or more minutes/week) totaled $2,770 compared with $3,855 for nonsufficient exercisers.


[1] https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/reports-publications/health-promotion-chronic-disease-prevention-canada-research-policy-practice/vol-34-no-1-2014/metabolic-syndrome-chronic-disease.html

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