What Is Metabolic Syndrome and Why Does it Matter for Heart Health?

February 28, 2023

This article was reviewed by our Baystate Health team to ensure medical accuracy.

Elizabeth Marie Jarry, CNP Elizabeth Marie Jarry, CNP View Profile
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About 1 in 3 adults have it - an unwanted health risk.

The good news is that it is largely preventable.

It’s called metabolic syndrome, also called insulin resistance syndrome, which is a group of conditions that together raise your risk for coronary heart disease, diabetes and stroke.


“It is important for everyone to know their risk for heart disease, and the combination of these conditions significantly raise your risk for heart disease. People with metabolic syndrome have 50-60% higher cardiovascular risk than those without the syndrome,” said Elizabeth Jarry, CNP at Baystate Cardiology.

Anyone with at least three of the following risk factors is considered to have metabolic syndrome:

  • A large waistline, also called abdominal obesity or "having an apple shape." Too much fat around the stomach is a greater risk factor for heart disease than too much fat in other parts of the body.
  • Having a high triglyceride level. Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood.
  • Having a low HDL cholesterol level. HDL is sometimes called the "good" cholesterol because it helps remove cholesterol from your arteries.
  • Having high blood pressure. If your blood pressure stays high over time, it can damage your heart and lead to other health problems.
  • Having a high fasting blood sugar. Mildly high blood sugar may be an early sign of diabetes.


Several causes acting together can lead to metabolic syndrome including:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • Insulin resistance, a condition in which the body can't use insulin properly. Insulin is a hormone that helps move blood sugar into your cells to give them energy. Insulin resistance can lead to high blood sugar levels
  • Age - your risk goes up as you get older
  • Genetics - ethnicity and family history

“The good news is that most heart disease is 80% preventable and adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing metabolic syndrome and overall cardiovascular disease,” Jarry said. 

 She cited the American Heart Association’s Life’s Essential 8, also supported by the American College of Cardiology, as health behaviors and factors to address heart disease risks and metabolic syndrome.


“The components of Life’s Essential 8 include eating better, being more active, quitting smoking (this includes vaping), getting healthy sleep, managing your weight, controlling your cholesterol, managing blood sugar, and keeping your blood pressure in check,” Jarry said.

“Losing weight, especially if you are obese, alongside exercise will provide you with the greatest benefit in reducing many of your risks including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes,” she added.

There are times, however, when lifestyle changes need to be augmented with medical interventions such as medications to lower your cholesterol or blood pressure or even weight-loss surgery.


While your risk for metabolic syndrome goes up as you get older, Jarry said clinicians are starting to see evidence of all five factors in the adolescent population.

“I suspect that this is largely due to the typical teenage diet of pizza, chips, soda and ice cream. Unfortunately, processed foods tend to also be less expensive and are created to be more addictive. As a result, we can expect to see a rise in heart disease over the next few years in younger age groups,” she said.

February is American Heart Month – a time to shine a spotlight on heart disease, the number one killer of Americans, when all people can focus on their cardiovascular health and address their risk factors for the disease.

Now is the time to have a discussion with your primary care provider about reducing your risks and setting strategies to achieve your goal of being heart healthy,” Jarry said.

Learn how to check your heart health. Know your risk and work with your doctor to create a plan to reduce your risk and protect your heart.

What's the Big Deal?

Elizabeth Jarry, CNP, talks about cardiac risk factors and metabolic syndrome.

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