DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend recently told me about a condition called metabolic syndrome. What is it? And what can I do if I have it?
DEAR READER: Metabolic syndrome may be the most common condition you've never heard of. Many of my patients have it; nearly 50 million Americans have it — and many of them don't know it.
Metabolic syndrome is dangerous. If you have it, you have a much higher risk of stroke or a heart attack, and of developing diabetes, kidney and liver disease. There's also evidence that older adults with metabolic syndrome are more likely to have memory problems.
Most important, you can cure it with changes in your lifestyle before you develop health problems.
You have metabolic syndrome if you have three or more of the following:
High blood pressure (hypertension).
Excess belly fat. This is measured as a waist size of 40 inches or more for men or 35 inches or more for women.
High triglycerides. This blood fat is often checked when you have a blood test for cholesterol.
Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL). This is often called “good cholesterol.”
High fasting blood sugar.
By the way, if you just determined that you have only one or two, but not three, of these factors, don't feel entirely relieved. You're still at higher risk of heart attack and stroke than people without any of these risk factors.
Fortunately, you can take many steps to prevent or avoid the metabolic syndrome: