The term "metabolic" refers to the biochemical processes involved in the body's normal functioning. Risk factors are traits, conditions, or habits that increase your chance of developing a disease.
In this article, "heart disease" refers to coronary heart disease (CHD). CHD is a condition in which a waxy substance called plaque (plak) builds up inside the coronary (heart) arteries.
The five conditions described below are metabolic risk factors. You can have any one of these risk factors by itself, but they tend to occur together. You must have at least three metabolic risk factors to be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
Your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke increases with the number of metabolic risk factors you have. In general, a person who has metabolic syndrome is twice as likely to develop heart disease and five times as likely to develop diabetes as someone who doesn't have metabolic syndrome.
Other risk factors, besides those described above, also increase your risk for heart disease. For example, a high LDL cholesterol level and smoking are major risk factors for heart disease, but they aren't part of metabolic syndrome.
Having even one risk factor raises your risk for heart disease. You should try to control every risk factor you can to reduce your risk.
Insulin resistance is a condition in which the body can't use its insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar into cells where it's used for energy. Insulin resistance can lead to high blood sugar levels, and it's closely linked to overweight and obesity.
Genetics (ethnicity and family history) and older age are other factors that may play a role in causing metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is becoming more common due to a rise in obesity rates among adults. In the future, metabolic syndrome may overtake smoking as the leading risk factor for heart disease.
It is possible to prevent or delay metabolic syndrome, mainly with lifestyle changes. A healthy lifestyle is a lifelong commitment. Successfully controlling metabolic syndrome requires long-term effort and teamwork with your health care providers.
The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.