What Is Metabolic Syndrome?
Metabolic syndrome is a group of medical problems that put some teens at risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes as adults. These problems are:
- too much belly fat (high waist measurement)
- high blood pressure (hypertension)
- high triglycerides
- low HDL cholesterol ("good cholesterol")
- high blood sugar
The chances of developing these problems go up if someone is overweight.
What Causes Metabolic Syndrome?
Being overweight is the main reason that people get metabolic syndrome. Being overweight or obese causes insulin resistance. Normally, insulin helps glucose enter the body's cells. Insulin resistance happens when the body doesn't respond properly to insulin, making it harder for glucose to enter the cells. Insulin resistance and inflammation add to the problems linked to metabolic syndrome.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome?
Teens with metabolic syndrome may have:
- high body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference
- blood test results that show high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, or high fasting blood sugar
- acanthosis nigricans. This darkening of the skin in folds and creases, like the neck and armpits, is a sign of insulin resistance.
Other medical problems associated with metabolic syndrome and obesity include:
- fatty liver
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- obstructive sleep apnea
Who Gets Metabolic Syndrome?
Some normal weight teens can have high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. But most teens with metabolic syndrome are overweight. As obesity gets worse, metabolic syndrome becomes more likely.
Obesity and the problems associated with metabolic syndrome tend to run in families. Other things that put someone at risk for metabolic syndrome include:
How Is Metabolic Syndrome Diagnosed?
Finding out that you have metabolic syndrome can help you take steps to prevent diseases down the road.
Doctors might suspect metabolic syndrome if an overweight or obese teen has acanthosis nigricans or a family history of diabetes or heart disease. They may do:
- a BMI and waist measurement
- measure blood pressure
- blood tests
Because metabolic syndrome and obesity tend to go hand-in-hand, doctors might order more tests to look for other weight-related problems, like fatty liver, PCOS, and apnea.
How Is Metabolic Syndrome Treated?
The good news is that you can do many things to help keep yourself from getting the health problems that metabolic syndrome can lead to.
Making lifestyle changes is the best way to get yourself on a track to good health. Here are the top ones:
- Drop excess pounds. If you're overweight, even a moderate amount of weight loss can bring about big improvements in your blood pressure, blood lipid levels, and your body's ability to use insulin.
- Stop sitting and start moving. Even a 30-minute walk each day can greatly improve how works in your body, and help your blood pressure and blood lipid levels.
- Eat mindfully. Think of food as fuel and try to get the right foods into your diet. Choose complex carbs instead of simple carbs (whole-grain bread instead of white bread, brown rice instead of white rice, etc.). Get more fiber by eating more beans, fruits, and vegetables. Choose more foods with "healthy" fats like olive oil and nuts, and avoid the empty calories in soda and sweets.
- Don't smoke. If you do smoke, quit. No surprise here — it's about the worst thing you can do for your heart and lungs.
When lifestyle changes aren't enough, teens may need treatment for the medical problems, like hypertension. Doctors might recommend weight loss surgery for some teens with metabolic syndrome and severe obesity who do not respond to lifestyle changes.
It can be hard to make changes now when your thirties and forties seem like a world away. But think about what you want your life to look like then. Maybe you see a family, friends, a home, a career, and good times. But the daily effects of living with diabetes or heart disease can put those dreams out of reach. So do what you can now to keep those problems from happening later.