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Metabolic syndrome: symptoms, causes, and risk factors to consider

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on August 15, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Diabetes, heart disease, and strokes are some of the most prominent health problems in the world. While there is no completely accurate way to calculate your risk of these health conditions, some things are known to directly increase your risk, including metabolic syndrome. You might have a lot of questions about your metabolism, like if coffee boosts your metabolism, at what age does your metabolism slow down, what is metabolic testing, and lastly, what is metabolic syndrome?


What Is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is technically not a disease itself. Instead, it refers to a group of related conditions that may contribute to an increased metabolic risk factor of heart disease, stroke, heart attack, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems related to the buildup of fatty deposits in the arterial walls. The five conditions comprising metabolic syndrome are:

  • High blood sugar level
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • High triglyceride levels in the blood
  • Low HDL cholesterol levels (the “good” cholesterol) in the blood
  • Large waist circumference (often creating an “apple-shaped” body)

While each of these conditions on its own is considered a cardiovascular disease risk factor, individuals are only diagnosed with metabolic syndrome if they have at least three of the above conditions.

Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome

The conditions that comprise metabolic syndrome typically don’t show any noticeable symptoms until they reach a point of immense severity. Probably the most obvious “symptom” is a large waist circumference. High blood sugar may contribute to signs of diabetes or prediabetes, which may include fatigue, blurry vision, and increased thirst or urination.

Causes of Metabolic Syndrome

Metabolic syndrome has no singular cause. Instead, it may come from a combination of lifestyle, environment, and genetics. For example, the syndrome is closely linked to a sedentary lifestyle.

Along with a sedentary lifestyle, Metabolic syndrome is also closely linked to insulin resistance. The food you eat normally gets broken down into blood glucose, the most accessible source of fuel for your cells. To process blood glucose and help it enter your cells, the pancreas creates a metabolic hormone known as insulin. However, in those with insulin resistance, cells don’t respond to insulin the way they should. This prevents glucose from entering the cells, which leads to an increased blood sugar level in the blood while your pancreas continues to pump out insulin. This is also why metabolic syndrome is sometimes referred to as insulin resistance syndrome.

Risk Factors for Metabolic Syndrome

Risk factors for each individual component of metabolic syndrome can vary, but risk factors for metabolic syndrome in general include:

  • Increased age
  • Prior case of diabetes or a family history of diabetes
  • Insulin sensitivity or resistance
  • Central obesity (increased fat in the abdomen and waist)

You may have an increased risk of metabolic syndrome if you have or have had certain other diseases, including sleep apnea, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Treatment for Metabolic Syndrome

Treating metabolic syndrome disease largely comes down to changes in your lifestyle. Most experts recommend increasing your exercise to at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. While diet is important, focus less on deprivation and more on healthy servings of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains. It’s also recommended that you quit smoking, which would improve your health even beyond just metabolic syndrome disease.

Outside of lifestyle changes, if you have trouble with high blood pressure or other issues, your healthcare provider may recommend medication to help you better manage the condition.

To check your levels of key hormones involved in metabolism, consider the Everlywell at-home Metabolism Test, which tells you your levels of cortisol, testosterone, and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).


1. About Metabolic Syndrome. American Heart Association. URL. Accessed August 15, 2021.

2. Metabolic syndrome. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed August 15, 2021.

3. Metabolic Syndrome. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed August 15, 2021.

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