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Metabolic syndrome is common

Sat., Aug. 25, 2012

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. 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; 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.

Talk to your doctor about whether you need medicines to lower blood pressure or triglycerides if they are high, and to raise HDL if it is low and is not raised just by exercising.

Also talk to your doctor about whether you need medicines to lower blood sugar if you have diabetes or “pre-diabetes.” People with this condition have blood sugar that is above normal but not at diabetic levels.

Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.


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